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Building Toward Sustained Excellence

Maryland Athletics
9-15-2017
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Welcome to the second installment of Terps Digest – a biweekly exclusive for umterps.com that strives to give Maryland fans a glimpse into the personalities and storylines making news inside Terrapin athletics


COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The Maryland women’s soccer program’s unbeaten run through nonconference play is impressive enough.

Its ability to cobble together such a strong month about 18 months after graduation, a coaching change and attrition left it without enough players to stitch together a starting 11 is extraordinary.

The Terrapins (6-0-1) have thrived early in coach Ray Leone’s second season, making rapid progress after a rough 2016.

They’ve doubled last year’s victory total as they head into their Big Ten opener Sunday at Rutgers, doing so with a core group composed mostly of the same players who endured a 3-15-1 slog that included 14 losses in their last 15 matches.

“Looking forward,” defender Hope Gouterman said, “was the best method of remaining positive.”

They went all out every single game. They got beat fair and square, they stuck together, there was no ripping of each other. We just owned it, right down to the last second. Seriously, we really did. I could hear some players on the team in the game and not in the game just fighting to the last second and being really positive. I was really proud of that because that is really hard to do.”
Head Coach Ray Leone

Leone, a Maryland native hired away from Harvard in January 2016, knew he wasn’t taking over a program in pristine condition. By the time he arrived, the Terps had gone three years in a row without an NCAA tournament berth while their winning percentage had regressed each season.

More strikingly, there were nine or 10 players left on the roster for Leone’s first spring, a harrowing prospect for those who remained.

“At some point, you look around and go ‘Numbers are slim,’” Gouterman said. “It’s kind of scary. But just having the new coaching staff come in and make an immediate impact was really important for us. The positivity they brought and the energy is not something you’re used to, and it’s amazing.”

There was still a spring to get through, then a summer and a fall. The Terps’ roster received reinforcements in the preseason, and a few more players were added later.

They were still undermanned and largely unfamiliar with each other’s on-field tendencies. It wasn’t ideal, but it also planted the seeds for later improvement.

“We knew it was going to be tough,” midfielder Madison Turner said. “The big thing for that spring was that we did have under 10 players and then in the fall we had about 18, so we’re almost doubling our team and had to get to know the entire team in the summer. It doesn’t sound that much different from what we’re doing now, but if you look at the players playing now and the players playing then, it’s a lot of the same people.”

Leone enjoyed working with his initial limited roster and was careful as he added freshmen and transfers. A quick fix or two might have nudged the Terps closer to .500 last year, but it probably wasn’t going to solve the program’s long-term issues.

Besides, he saw signs of encouragement from his players’ attitudes even as they went winless over their last six matches.

“They went all out every single game,” Leone said. “They got beat fair and square, they stuck together, there was no ripping of each other. We just owned it, right down to the last second. Seriously, we really did. I could hear some players on the team in the game and not in the game just fighting to the last second and being really positive. I was really proud of that because that is really hard to do.”

Another spring of improvement --- and another wave of reinforcements --- provided Leone and his players with the belief this year could be different. So far it has been; Maryland has crafted a pair of three-game winning streaks around a draw at Furman prior to its Big Ten schedule.

Forwards Mikayla Dayes and Chelsea Jackson have both scored three goals, but the biggest on-field difference is probably the team’s depth.

“You could be subbing the whole game and not really tell the difference,” said Turner, who has played more an attacking role this season after being leaned upon at the defensive end out of necessity last year. “That’s awesome because we’ve never really had that before, not just when Ray’s been here but since I’ve been here all four years.”

That bodes well for the future. Maryland was a consistent NCAA tournament team for a decade, earning nine postseason invitations from 1995 to 2004. But the Terps have been back just four times in the last dozen years, and their last run to the NCAA quarterfinals came in 1996.

The sport seems like a natural fit at Maryland, and the apparent upward trajectory is a welcome sign for the program.

“That’s definitely our goal, to make it a sustained program of excellence,” Leone said. “That takes good recruiting, commitment from the team and a whole buy-in to what this whole culture of being a championship team is about. It takes time. It doesn’t happen overnight.”

The last year and a half is a testament to that. Leone is committed to creating the best experience possible for his core group, a bunch that has emerged as the foundation of the team through their shared experiences in 2016.

With a half-dozen victories in the bank, it would be easy to declare the season some measure of success. Maryland, though, believes it is far from finished.

“It’s kind of that idea that we’re not done yet,” Gouterman said. “We still want more for ourselves and more for the team. The goal is to leave it better than we came.”

Not that there isn’t appreciation for the early stages of this season. It’s just that the Terps are seeking a balance in satisfaction and eagerness for more.

“It’s definitely both,” Turner said. “The start of last season was a lot different. At the same time, we haven’t even started conference play yet. I think people are definitely still hungry for that.”

After last season’s struggles, it’s hard to blame the Terps for not being interested in settling for merely a good month. Leone wants to make Maryland a Big Ten contender, and the next 11 games will provide another gauge of the program’s considerable progress since this time a year ago.

“It was an emotional experience for all of us,” Leone said. “If you own it and you use it for the next year, then at least there was a reason for it. That’s kind of where it led to this year.”

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