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Previewing the 2021 Maryland women’s soccer season

The Terps return plenty of talent to compete in the tough Big Ten conference.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland’s women’s soccer will play the opening game of their 2020-21 season this Saturday against Michigan State, more than four months after fall sports were postponed due to the disastrous pandemic. Ray Leone continues to rebuild the team in his fifth season as head coach, and with some postseason play under his belt, this could be the year the team makes a splash in the tough Big Ten conference.

Last season, Leone’s squad finished 9-8-3, including a 5-5-1 record in conference play, which was its best mark since joining the league and enough for the team to qualify for its first ever Big Ten tournament. The sixth seed Terrapins lost, 3-0, in the opening round of the tournament to Michigan.

This season, the Terps return plenty of veteran depth while adding an exciting freshman class. A postseason berth is well within grasp for the team as it looks to make its way out of the middle of the Big Ten and into the top tier. The top theme for Maryland this year is clear: a readiness to return to the pitch.

“We’re just excited to play anybody,” Leone said. “...Just getting out on the field, putting our jerseys on and representing Maryland.”

Key Players Lost

The Terps certainly have veteran depth at multiple positions, but goalkeeping is not one of them. Starting goalie Erin Seppi and backup Andi Wenck both graduated from the program last season, leaving the Terps extremely youthful at the defensive anchor position. Seppi recorded 78 saves at a 0.722 save percentage last season to leda a strong defensive unit that allowed just over 1.6 goals per game while she was on the field.

Graduates Julia New and Jlon Flippens mark the Terps’ other big defensive losses. New played in 18 games last season and Flippens appeared in 12 games. The duo also started 12 games each. Midfielder Darby Moore, who spent time with the defensive unit and totaled three goals during her Maryland career, also moved on from the program. But even with these losses, Maryland still has plenty of defensive depth to begin the season.

Remarkably, the Terps have no real offensive losses going into the season. A crew of last season’s sophomores and juniors return to the unit hungry for more after a taste of the postseason.

Top Returners

Headlining Maryland’s returning players is the forward duo of Alyssa Poarch and Mikayla Dayes, who combined for 13 goals last season. Poarch recorded a team-high eight goals and 19 points on her way to Second Team All-Big Ten and Third Team All-North Region honors. Dayes scored five goals on 40 shots last season, including a goal in the Big Ten tournament against Michigan.

Junior Emily McNesby will look to build upon a productive first two seasons as the team’s third best returning forward. She has scored two goals on 37 shots so far in her career. Sophomores Keyera Wynn and Kaylee Kozlowski should also get plenty of minutes at the position.

The midfielders return a stacked unit, including seniors Hope Lewandoski and Anissa Mose. Mose started 16 games in 2019 as a defensive midfielder and Lewandoski, who has grown into one of the team’s most verbal leaders, started six games last season and scored two goals.

“As I’ve grown as a player, my mentality switched to how best can I help the team, how can I play to help the people around me, to [how] can I play to improve the people around me, and give feedback, and help the younger players as much as possible,” Lewandoski said.

Joining the senior midfielders is Loren Sefcik, who scored three goals on 39 shots last season, good for third on the team. Sefcik will be given plenty of opportunities to go beyond the three goal mark this season and could see career highs in multiple categories.

Alexis Hogarth, Malikae Dayes, and Adalee Broadbent are three defensive names to look out for this season. No player of the trio started less than 18 games last season. Dayes will lead the group after having a stellar season that resulted in a Big Ten All-Tournament Team selection. A breakout season could be in store for Broadbent, a defender who still makes an impact on the attack. She scored two goals and logged nine shots on goal in her sophomore season.

The most likely candidate to replace Seppi at goalie is Nicole Kwozka, a sophomore who appeared in two games last season. Kwozka allowed one goal in 80 minutes of playing time in her lone start, a 6-2 rout against Illinois. She boasted eight saves and a .889 save percentage last season and has long been looked at as the next long-term Maryland goalie. If Kwozka has earned the starting job, she’ll be backed up by redshirt freshman Kennedy Tolson.

The Dayes twins, along with Poarch, were named to the Big Ten Players to Watch list during the conference’s preseason coaches’ poll.

With nearly the entire team returning, the squad has spent the past year becoming a more tight-knit group. The ever-improving team chemistry should be on full display at the start of the season.

“We’re at practice every single day together, even on the weekends, we’re in treatment together, we’re lifting together,” Lewandoski said. “And I think just really focusing on creating chemistry during that time carries off the field.”

Newcomers

While it may be hard for them to find playing time due to the bevy of returning talent, Ray Leone’s incoming freshmen class has great potential to be the backbone of future Terps teams.

Talented forward Zora Jackson leads the freshman class. Jackson, a graduate of Crossroads Flex High School and Durham School of the Arts in North Carolina, scored 35 goals as a junior, garnering Conference Player of the Year and All-State honors. Jackson is coming off of an injured senior season.

A stacked midfield class is led by Tori Paul, a graduate of Olympic High School in Charlotte, North Carolina. Paul led her team in goals and assists each season, eventually becoming the school’s second-leading goal scorer of all-time. Local recruit Olivia Reese joins the team from La Plata, MD. Reese achieved conference honors in the WCAC as a junior and senior at St. John’s College High School.

Newcomers Catherine DeRosa and Milan Pierre-Jerome (a member of the U-20 Haitian national team) round out the incoming midfield class.

The incoming freshman duo of Avery Rice and Krista Varrichione will compete for third in line at goal. While neither are highly ranked coming out of high school, one of the two could end up being Maryland’s longterm goalie solution.

Looking Ahead

Since 2014, the Terps have competed in the Big Ten conference, one of the most competitive women’s soccer conferences in the NCAA. Five Big Ten teams made the NCAA Tournament last season. This year is no different, promising a tough road ahead even with the returning talent Maryland will have.

Maryland will play 11 games in a shortened season that promises to be more dramatic than usual, with a limited amount of time for teams to prove their worth. The toughest stretch of the schedule comes at the end, with road games against Penn State (No. 1 in the coaches’ poll) and Wisconsin (No. 2) in the last week of the regular season.

“Knowing what it takes to succeed at the Big Ten level, you can’t just come in and think, ‘Let’s just do an okay job,’” Leone said. “You have to give every single thing you’ve got in every single game.”

Maryland comes in at 12th in the preseason coaches’ poll. The Terps will have plenty of chances to win early in the season with opening games against Michigan State, voted last at 14th in the preseason poll, and Purdue, voted 11th.