Maryland women’s soccer looks to bounce back after a historically poor season

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

It’s fair to say the past season didn’t go as planned for the Terps.

After a breakout season in 2019 where Maryland went 9-8-3 and made its first Big Ten Tournament, the Terps seemed poised to once again make some noise in the conference.

However, a season which held so much promise would go down as Maryland’s worst season in school history. The Terps went 0-10-2, finishing at the bottom of the Big Ten standings, although the record doesn’t tell the full story.

While it is Maryland’s first ever winless season, it is important to note that due to the COVID-19 pandemic Maryland played exclusively conference opponents. The Terps have had some poor conference records in recent history, however, the last time they failed to win a conference game was in 1993. Maryland was a member of the ACC back then. 

Maryland struggled with injuries to key players before the season even started, with three key players getting hurt during the first week of preseason. Two of those players were named on the Big Ten Women’s Soccer Players to Watch List, redshirt junior forward Alyssa Poarch and senior defender Malikae Dayes. 

Poarch seemed set to be the focal point for Maryland’s attack after being the team’s top scorer in 2019. She notched eight goals and three assists in 2019, but after getting injured and missing Maryland’s first two games Poarch struggled to find fitness and consistency this year. She finished the season with two goals and one assist in a Maryland offense that only managed to find the back of the net eight times in 12 games.

Malikae Dayes was a player the Terps have relied on for the past two years, as the center-back started all 39 games of her sophomore and junior seasons with the Terps. 

Unfortunately, after picking up an injury, Dayes missed Maryland’s first game of the season, and was only able to return for 22 minutes against Purdue before getting injured again. Dayes missed the rest of the regular season and was only able to return in Maryland’s 4-2 loss at Ohio State in the opening round of Big Ten Regional Weekend.

While Dayes is listed as a senior she is likely to return next season, and Maryland head coach Ray Leone is looking forward to her presence in Maryland’s defense.

“She’s such a big part of our play,” Leone said. “I mean it would be like Ed Reed not playing on your team, you know. He’s the anchor of the entire defense. [Malikae] is that good.”

Maryland also struggled with injuries in goal, with sophomore goalkeeper Nicole Kwocza suffering a torn achilles in a warm-up and freshman goalkeeper Kennedy Tolson missing the last game of the season after picking up an injury at Penn State.

While Leone acknowledged that injuries were not a complete excuse for Maryland’s poor performance this season, he praised his players for continuing to fight against the adversities they faced.

“I am still proud of them,” Leone said. “I’m not happy with the results. There were more than a few times where I think that we could have done better. But on the whole, the individual fortitude that you had to have as a player to go through what they went through is extraordinary.”

On the positive side, the injuries provided a chance for many young players to step up and gain experience they may not have gotten otherwise. Two of those underclassmen who stepped up are sophomore defender Mia Issac and freshman forward Zora Jackson, both who impressed Leone.

Defensively, Isaac notched 541 minutes on the season as opposed to 118 minutes her freshman year. She started six games and will look to lock down a starting spot next season.

“Mia worked very hard, she got in good shape, and she really competed,” Leone said. “She played extremely well in some key games against Rutgers and Michigan, really good teams.”

Offensively, Jackson provided a boost to Maryland’s attack off the bench in the beginning of the season, notching an assist against Ohio State. Towards the end of the season, she transitioned to right back and impressed in that role as well.

“Zora Jackson at the end of the season showed a lot of promise,” Leone added. “And also showed maybe a new position at right back that she could really dominate. I was pleased with her finish.”

Another young player that impressed this season was freshman midfielder Catherine DeRosa. DeRosa played 751 minutes, the fifth most on the team, after joining the team last spring. 

“She is a really strong-minded kid,” Leone said of DeRosa. “She’s a soccer junkie. She’s a mentally tough player and she’s got a lot of experience and a variety of roles. I think she’s trying to find herself at this level.”

While there are positives, the negatives still loom over Maryland’s poor season. Entering next season, the Terps will look to find more success in the win column, while also establishing their identity that brought them victories in previous seasons.

“The goal is to reset our minds and reset how we want to play,” Leone said. “I think we did find some things there at the end [of the season] that we liked that we were doing. I think it’s a combination of some of the play that we had against Rutgers and the play we had at Ohio State, and then finishing it and playing the full 90 minutes.’

Beyond finding that identity, Leone and the Terps are focused on raising their fitness levels. Ideally, next season won’t involve the intensive testing protocols and COVID, but Leone is still hoping to see improvement in the team’s fitness level. 

“We have to raise our level of fitness,” Leone said. “You had all these kids with COVID in and out, in and out, and that really hurt them, even if they were fit it hurt them. But I think collectively, we have got to get a lot better.”

Leone and the Terps are no stranger to turning things around after a poor season. After joining the Terps in 2016 and going 3-15-1 in his first season, Leone’s Terps improved to 7-8-1 the following year. 

After another down season in 2018, in which Maryland went 4-10-5, Leone led the Terps to their first ever Big Ten Tournament and Maryland’s first winning record since 2012 in 2019. 

Despite the challenging season, Leone is optimistic for a similar turnaround next season.

“To have the majority of the players back and have such an experience [is great],” he said. “This is all about the Big Ten for us, we’ve only played Big Ten teams [this season] and now all of our young players know what they need to do. They say in New York, you’ve got to suffer before the success. We suffered, this entire season we suffered and hopefully the success will come. I’ve been here before, too… it can be turned around, and it will.”

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