The Ray Leone era is finally coming to fruition in College Park.
The fourth year coach came into the program in 2016 with high expectations, and after three years of rebuilding and disappointing seasons, Maryland women's soccer is back in the Big Ten conversation.
The Terrapins sit with seven wins under their belts, tying the most since Leone has been at the helm, with six games remaining in the regular season. Three of those victories came in conference play, the most since Maryland’s inaugural year in the Big Ten in 2014.
“The biggest thing is our team always going back to grit and resilience,” midfielder Darby Moore said. “One thing that’s never changed about our team is how much work we put into it.”
Leone arrived at Maryland with quite the track record, leading a number of highly touted programs to postseason appearances, including Arizona State, Harvard and Clemson. The coach earned win No. 300 this season with the Terrapins, making him just the 26th active Division I coach to achieve the feat.
“Every place is different, but building is the same,” Leone said. “It’s building a culture, building a commitment, building a belief in one another. In this day and age, it doesn’t matter what you’ve done somewhere else, it’s ‘show us here,’ and it took some time.”
Maryland definitely experienced some growing pains in Leone’s first three years as head coach. The team won just 14 games in that span, including four in the Big Ten. Coming to the Big Ten just two years prior to Leone’s arrival, the Terrapins took a leap into fierce competition after having great success in the Atlantic Coastal Conference.
“All my coaches my whole life have taken risks with the players and said ‘just trust me,’” defender Julia New said. “It’s not easy sometimes, but you remember why you’re here, why you’re doing what you’re doing and just buy in. Case in point it’s working now.”
This year, Leone has led Maryland to a number of big wins, including the team’s first road win since Sept. 22, 2017 against No. 20 Rutgers. The Terrapins’ last contest earned them six goals in a rout against Illinois, the most goals scored against a Power Five opponent since 1998.
Alongside Leone on the sideline this season is assistant coach Ron Celestin. Before joining the staff in May 2019, Celestin worked as the associate head coach at Northeastern. He quickly turned the program around in his first season with the team, leading the Huskies to both a regular season and tournament conference championships.
“I think Ron keeps us really level headed while we’re out there,” New said. “If he sees something that needs change, he’s going to come up to you and explain it. There’s no confusion with Ron and that just keeps our team focused.”
The addition of Celestin to the Maryland staff has already been evident this season. The Terrapin attack in 2019 is unlike anything the program has seen in years.
Nine different players have netted a goal thus far, already one more than a season ago. Maryland’s leading scorer, forward Alyssa Poarch, has taken the attack under her wing with eight goals tallied in 2019.
“It’s definitely been a growing process,” New said. “The relationship has been getting tighter and tighter, and it opens up a lot more avenues for communication.”
The Terrapins sit fifth in the Big Ten rankings, with the top eight teams earning a spot in the postseason conference tournament. Absent in its first five seasons, Maryland is playing its cards just right this year to make its first postseason berth in conference history.
“It’s something I’ve been wanting to do since I got here,” Moore said. “It means a lot to be the first team at Maryland to make the Big Ten tournament. It’d be awesome if we could do that.”