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Maryland women’s soccer season preview

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With the majority of the team returning, the Terps look to bounce back from a rough spring season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland women’s soccer will play its opening game of the 2021 season on Aug. 19 when it hosts Temple at Ludwig Field. The Terps will play their second season in the 2021 calendar year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The spring featured a 12-game, strictly Big Ten slate, while this fall will present a normal schedule with a full non-conference portion.

As he enters his sixth season at the helm of Maryland’s women’s soccer program, head coach Ray Leone has a lot of work to do in his efforts to turn around the team. In the spring, the Terps finished with a lowly mark of 0-10-2. The team dealt with injuries while being outscored 29-8 throughout the season. The season wrapped up with a 4-2 loss to Ohio State as the squad failed to qualify for the Big Ten Tournament.

“They did the best that they could, we all did the best that we could,” Leone said. “We went through an awful lot and we’re not hiding from that. We went through an incredible amount and it toughened us all up and we’re really just ready to put our best foot forward.”

This season, the Terps return a vast majority of last spring’s roster while adding a few major additions via recruiting and the transfer portal. In what will be a short offseason turnaround to the field of play, Maryland will have to chip away one game at a time to set the mark for more success.

Key Players Lost

Of the 28 players on the listed 2020-21 roster for the Terps, only two did not return for fall competition.

One of the two women who moved on from the program is midfielder Anissa Mose. After a four-year career with the Terps, Mose graduated from the University of Maryland in 2021. A mainstay in the Maryland lineup, Mose started 56 games across four seasons dating back to her freshman campaign in 2017. Mose’s departure undoubtedly leaves a big hole to fill for the Terps.

Graduate transfer Sydney Staier marks the other big loss for Maryland. Staier, who will be playing for Big Ten foe Indiana this season, led the Terps in minutes played this past spring. A three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree, Staier started in all 11 games she played in last season, recording a goal and an assist. Staier’s exit is another blow to the midfield position for the Terps, but the abundance of returning talent for Maryland should help compromise it. Staier and the Terps will reunite when Maryland plays Indiana in College Park this October.

Top Returners

Experience usually proves to be a great thing in college sports, and Maryland women’s soccer is fortunate to have plenty of it. Out of the 31 players on this season’s roster, 26 of them are returning from last season, a remarkable 84% of its players.

“You think about the stress that we had and the difficulties that we went through, maybe a lot of people would say that’s it, and they didn’t,” Leone said. “So to return that many, I’m proud of that, that our team is a family and committed to turn it around.”

On the offensive side of the ball, Maryland brings back what should be a lethal forward quartet of Alyssa Poarch, Keyera Wynn, Emily McNesby and Mikayla Dayes.

The Terps are fortunate to have Poarch, as she returns for a fifth year with the program. She had a solid spring season, as her two goals were tied for the most on the team in only 10 games of playing time. Poarch is the most decorated player on Maryland’s roster, being tabbed with Second Team All-Big Ten and Third Team All-North Region honors in 2019.

Wynn and Dayes also scored two goals apiece in the spring, helping lead the way for Maryland last season. Wynn, a junior, did it while only playing eight games, starting four of them, as a sophomore. Dayes has appeared in every single game dating back to her freshman season in 2018.

McNesby only recorded five shots this past spring, but played in all 12 games, ending with the second-most minutes played on the entire roster. Sophomores Anna Carazza and Zora Jackson earned a bunch of minutes at forward during their respective freshmen campaigns and look to add similar contributions this season.

At the midfielder position, the Terps have plenty of returning talent to make up for the losses of Mose and Staier. Hope Lewandowski, a graduate student, was the lone Terp to earn a postseason honor in the spring season, being tabbed with the Sportsmanship Award. She started all nine games she played in but had to move to different positions across the field due to injuries.

“It’s a big deal,” Leone said on Lewandowski’s return for a fifth season. “She’s returning to form, she’s experienced, she’s a leader. The way she moves the ball is the way we want to move the ball as a team.”

Loren Sefcik and Catherine DeRosa are two other players who could shine at midfield this season. Sefcik scored one of the team’s eight goals in the spring while playing the third-most minutes on the team. DeRosa appeared in all twelve games as a true freshman in the spring, one of the two players on the roster to do so.

Milan Pierre-Jerome, a representative of the Haitian National Team, is another name to know at midfield as she enters her sophomore season. She appeared in nine of the team’s 12 games as a freshman. Sophomores Olivia Reese and Tori Paul and juniors Brooke Weston and Olivia Hicks also played sparsely at midfield this past season.

The Terps seem to be solid on defense after not losing a single defender from the roster. Malikae Dayes missed the majority of last season due to injury, but returns for her fifth year to lead the defensive unit. Malikae, the twin sister of Mikayla, was dominant in 2019 as Maryland’s center back, starting all 20 games and being named to the Big Ten All-Tournament Team. Malikae, along with her sister and Poarch, has been named to the 2021 Big Ten Women’s Soccer Players to Watch List.

“I mean, she played all of one game last year,” Leone said about Malikae. “To have her as an anchor of our team, it really is awesome. She’s doing great. She’s a strong leader, strong player...when you have her back there, everyone is playing better.”

Alexis Hogarth is another defensive player to look out for, as she started 18 of the 19 games she appeared in two years ago before missing the majority of last season due to injury. Adalee Broadbent started 19 of the team’s 20 games in 2019 and will also be a force on the defensive end this year despite only appearing in eight contests last season. Junior Mia Issac and senior Madison Oracion round out a strong defensive unit as both women played in 10 games last season.

Finally, Maryland returns a plethora of goalkeepers in what should be an interesting development in terms of who plays the most. Redshirt sophomore Kennedy Tolson started eight of the team’s 12 games in net last year, making 33 saves and allowing an average of 1.83 goals against. While Tolson played the most out of the four netminders, junior Nicole Kwoczka appeared in four of the first five games, starting one, before suffering a season-ending injury. Sophomore Krista Varrichione also earned a bunch of playing time, starting three games as a freshman, including the last game of the season.

“We are still kind of having that iron itself out,” Leone said about the goalkeepers. “...In terms of the competition, it’s great. They’re getting better every day and really, we just need to get in sync with the backline. That’s the important thing. It’s not just who’s in the goal, it’s who’s playing in front of them too.”

Newcomers

Leone brings in five newcomers to round out what should be an improved Maryland roster.

Freshman forward Toni Domingos headlines a duo of incoming recruits to this Maryland team. Domingos, a Bridgeport, Connecticut native, comes to College Park as a highly-touted prospect. An All-American in 2020, Domingos is also a two-time conference player of the year. She capped off her high school career as the all-time leading scorer at Notre Dame Catholic with 108 goals.

The other incoming freshman is midfielder Mori Sokoloff from nearby Severna Park, Maryland. Sokoloff was a dominant two-sport athlete at Severn, earning two First Team All-MIAA honors in soccer while also being named first-team all-conference in track and field.

Perhaps the most familiar addition to the Maryland community is forward Kori Locksley, a graduate transfer from Auburn. The daughter of Maryland football’s head coach Mike Locksley, Locksley played all 18 games for Auburn last season, starting 12 of them. She notched two goals on the season, both of them being game-winners.

“With [Kori], she’s just doing amazing,” Leone said. “She knew a lot of players on our team, so that really helped us...she doesn’t feel like a transfer.”

Wrapping up the class of five newcomers, Maryland has brought in goalkeepers Liz Brucia and Madeline Smith. Brucia, a graduate student, played sparingly for Georgia in the SEC the past four seasons. Smith posted a 2-2-2 overall record in six games at Omaha as a sophomore in 2020.

Looking Ahead

Inevitably, the Terps will have a long road ahead to reach the success they accomplished in the 2019 season where they went 9-8-3. Not winning a single contest this past spring is a major setback, but not something that will be devastating to the program. The Terps had a bunch of key players go down with injuries last season and were forced to play young players and players out of position.

In last year’s NCAA Tournament, four Big Ten teams — Iowa, Ohio State, Penn State and Rutgers — earned bids to a truncated 48-team field. This year’s United Soccer Coaches national preseason poll features two of those teams, Penn State and Rutgers, ranked in its top 25. The normal schedule, featuring eight non-conference games, should prove to be helpful to Maryland, as they will not be thrown into the heat of conference play right away.

“I’m gonna focus on just starting out strong and planning well,” Leone said. “I don’t want to focus on the end, I want to focus on the beginning. The beginning is us starting out in that first minute ready to roll.”

Maryland comes in at 14th in the preseason coaches poll, right behind Michigan State and Nebraska. The Terps look to get off on the right foot as they begin their season against Temple in College Park this Thursday.