COLLEGE PARK, Md. – The University of Maryland might be in a new conference, but the 2014 Terps bring a lot of talent and experience with them as they look to conquer the Big Ten.
“This is a very underappreciated league,” said Maryland head coach Jonathan Morgan, who begins his third season at the helm of the Terrapin program. “Including Rutgers, there are nine teams in this league that made the NCAA tournament last season. There’s a lot to be excited about heading into the Big Ten. There are so many special players and quality teams that make up this league.
Maryland appears to be well prepared to face the new challenges waiting in the Big Ten as the Terps return eight starters from last season, including their entire starting midfield and defensive units.
Let’s take a look at the 2014 Terps unit by unit:
Maryland will rely on a talented quintet at the forward position: senior Cory Ryan, junior Alex Doody, redshirt sophomore Gabby Galanti, sophomore Natasha Ntone-Kouo and redshirt freshman Alex Anthony.
“This is a compliment of forwards that offer very differing qualities. They can play either with their back to pressure, penetrate off the ball and/or be dangerous in 1v1 situations,” said Morgan. “We might be an attacking forward line by committee, but I have confidence that no matter which pair we put on the field this group will get the job done.”
Galanti and Anthony figure to be prominent performers when completely healthy, but at the start of the season Ryan and Doody will shoulder a lot of the load.
Ryan, who moves from midfield to the forward full time this season, is expected to be a breakout star for the Terps this season and reminds Morgan of Becky Kaplan, who enjoyed a sensational 2011 season when making a similar position switch.
“Cory has the same touch and explosiveness as Becky did,” said Morgan. “She comes into her senior season with a lot of confidence and we expect her to breakout this season.”
Doody has emerged as the group’s leader and was selected by her teammates as one of three team captains this season.
“Alex is the leading personality of this group,” said Morgan. “Her movement off the ball is special she has a knack for getting into good scoring positions.”
Ntone-Kouo is versatile and will see time at forward and wide midfield. Her talent and potential are enough to draw comparisons to former Terp All-American Jasmyne Spencer.
“Natasha has a lot of similar traits that Jas brought,” said Morgan. “She’s explosive, powerful and is dangerous in the 1v1. We’ll need her to contribute to the scoring this fall.”
“This is the unit we will depend on the most this season,” said Morgan of a unit that boasts six returners, five of which have starting experience. “This is an experienced group and we will need them to control the tempo and pace of games. If we can control the middle third of the field we give ourselves a chance to win a lot of games.”
Morgan is exited about the development of junior Aubrey Baker, who will make the switch from wide midfield to attacking center mid.
“Aubrey has emerged as an attacking presence for us,” said Morgan. “She came in with the mentality of wanting to score and create goals. She’s done that by showing her ability to deliver good service, as well as score from distance.”
Two other Terps will also hope to benefit from position changes this season in senior Shade Pratt and junior Riley Barger.
Pratt spent the past two seasons on the back line as a wide right back and center back. This season she has switched to wide midfield and Morgan likes what he has seen during preseason training.
“We felt wide midfield would suit Shade’s qualities better and so far she’s proven us right,” said Morgan. “She obviously has terrific pace and fitness, but she spent a lot of time in the offseason improving on the ball and becoming a better passer and server of the ball.”
Barger, who was an attacking center mid in her first two seasons with the Terps, will contribute as a holding midfielder or wide midfielder depending on the team’s shape.
“Riley’s versatility makes her easy to slot into any number of roles and we’ll need to depend on her very much,” said Morgan.
Berman is the team’s leading returning scorer with 11 points on three goals and five assists as a freshman. Morgan summed up her preseason with a single word – fantastic.
McCune has seen action in only 12 matches over the past two seasons, but has improved in every facet to challenge for a starting spot.
“Maisie came into camp fit and with a sense of urgency about her,” said Morgan. “She has had an outstanding preseason and we’re excited to see what she can do on the field when it counts.”
Junior Sarah Fichtner was also selected as one of the team’s tri-captains and provides a steadying influence and looks to be the starter when the season begins.
“Sarah is just a consistent, honest worker,” said Morgan. “She can play either on the left or right flanks, she covers a lot of ground and she can supply service to the forwards. There’s a lot of value in having a player who you know what they will bring to the field each and every game.”
Junior Sarah Molina looks to be in the lead for the second holding midfield position and Morgan expects her to elevate her level of play in 2014.
“She’s so close,” said Morgan of Molina reaching her potential. “If she can just gain some confidence in herself she can be great. She is good with the ball at her feet and she has a good feel for the game. We just need her to believe she can do more.”
Junior Erika Joab and Sophomore Hope Gouterman will have something to say about who will be playing in the holding position with Barger. “These two young women are performing at a high level and I’m enjoying watching the competition between the three.”
“The great thing about this group as a whole is that we gave them specific areas of their game to improve on over the spring and summer and they all took it to heart and made the improvements we had hoped,” said Morgan. “That’s a credit to them as individuals and as a group.”
The depth and experience of the returners will allow for freshmen Kate Waters and Julia Moore the time to develop without feeling the pressure to perform right away, but both have the talent to be performers later on in the season.
Morgan hinted the Terps could come out in a 3-5-2 shape to start the season with three experienced juniors locking down the three backline positions.
Leading this group is left back Shannon Collins, the only player to start all 43 matches for the Terps in the past two seasons. Not only an outstanding defender, Collins also tied for the team lead in assists last season.
“Shannon is amazing to me,” said Morgan. “She isn’t the biggest or the fastest, but she makes up for whatever shortcomings she has with her intellect, skill and sheer will.”
Erika Nelson returns at center back and will look to improve upon an inconsistent sophomore season that saw her put too much pressure on herself, according to Morgan.
“I’ve been so impressed with Erika. She is back with an improved understanding of the game overall, and her confidence has grown as a result. She’s improved her comfort on the ball and she has a more confident voice.”
Amanda Gerlitz has won the right back spot this season after starting nine games in 15 appearances last season. Morgan is excited about Gerlitz reaching her potential in 2014.
“She has always been a talented technical player. She just needed to build her confidence and become a bit more urgent as a player. If she believes in herself as much as we believe in her she can be something special.”
When the Terps shift their shape to a 4-4-2 junior Kayla Shea will partner alongside Nelson as the other center back.
“I’m so proud of the work Kayla has put in,” said Morgan. “We have confidence in her and are comfortable with her ability to get the job done when she is in the lineup. She’s improved as a 1v1 defender and is more confident in the air. She’s ready to step right in.”
Freshman Maddy Turner will provide depth initially on the back like, but can also bump up to the midfield if needed.
“She has the potential to be a big time player,” said Morgan. “She’s athletic with great feet and a great feel for the game. We expect her to be a contributor sooner rather than later.”
Maryland boasts a wealth of talent with three capable goalkeepers, but junior Rachelle Beanlands is a two-year starter and enters the season back as the starting net-minder.
“It’s Beanlands’ job. She owns it for now,” said Morgan. “She was also selected as a team captain, which demonstrates how her teammates and coaches feel about her. She didn’t come back expecting the starting job to be handed to her. She came back and worked hard and won it.”
Senior Kristene Mumby returns as the back up after challenging for the starting job in the spring.
“She continues to improve and pushes Beanlands every day on the pitch,” said Morgan.
The wildcard in the mix is freshman Rachel Egyed, who came into camp with the mentality of a starting keeper.
“She wants to be the starter, wants the responsibility,” said Morgan. “Rachel has the athleticism and courage to be an outstanding keeper and I see similar qualities of former keepers Yewande Balogun and Mary Casey in her.”
“She raised the level of competition even more and that’s made all of the keepers better, but that’s the great thing about this group. Instead of looking out for themselves they have all been extremely selfless and are helping each other get better. They have a true ‘Team First’ mentality.”