At the opening touch of Maryland women’s soccer’s scoreless draw against George Washington on Sunday, midfielder Hope Lewandoski found herself on the sideline to begin a match for the first time this season. Forward Darby Moore, another fixture in the Terps’ attack, was on the bench at the start for just the second time in 2018.
In Maryland’s previous matchup, a 1-1 draw against UCF on Thursday, forward Jarena Harmon didn’t get the starting nod for the first time this year.
After watching his team limp to a 1-8-2 Big Ten record in an injury-laden 2017, coach Ray Leone knows the difficult task he’ll face when conference play begins this week. He hopes that spreading the minutes around will make the Terps fresher than they would have been otherwise, even after three consecutive overtime games.
“We’ve not picked an 11 and said, ‘That’s it, here’s our 11,'” Leone said. “We’ve already been through that and seen what it does to your team at the end of the season, so I think it’s just gotten us fitter.”
[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer just misses late goal in scoreless draw with George Washington]
The Terps experienced a similarly trying stretch in nonconference play last year, when they went to extra time in four consecutive matches. While the team didn’t lose any of those games, it took a physical toll, with forward Mikayla Dayes suffering a season-ending knee injury during that stretch.
In the Terps’ first conference game of 2017, Harmon and forward Chelsea Jackson — both of them regular starters up front — also went down with injuries. In their absence, the attack suffered down the stretch, failing to score in the final six contests.
To deal with the barrage of marathon matches this time around, Maryland has employed several different lineups. Even with the team struggling to score, the buildups and shot attempts have come by committee, which Dayes said is by design.
“We do try to work as a team and make combination plays in order to finish,” Dayes said. “We just try to play with who we [have on the field].”
[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer breaks scoreless streak and holds on for 1-1 draw with UCF]
Over the first eight games, 10 different Terps have at least five shots. Forward Alyssa Poarch, who paces the team with 19 attempts, has started just two games and played in only 58.5 percent of possible minutes so far. Harmon, the leading scorer with three goals, has seen the field even less, appearing in just 54.7 percent of possible minutes.
For a team that has been on the field for nearly 44 extra minutes over the past three contests, recovery has been crucial. Goalkeeper Rachel Egyed, who’s been in goal for every minute of that stretch, said a focused post-game recovery has been a major boon for the Terps.
If Maryland performs better in conference play this year, the team expects its mix-and-match lineups — and its focus on staying fresh during the first few weeks of the season — to become part of the formula.
“We’ve been doing pretty well, we have a lot of emphasis on our recovery and rehab and everything after the game,” Egyed said. “So I don’t think it’s taking as much of a toll as you would think.”