After going unbeaten for seven games to start the season, the Maryland women’s soccer team walked off the field with a loss for the first time Sunday.
The Terps went undefeated through their spring slate and did not lose in nonconference play this season. But the streak ended at No. 13 Rutgers, as the Terps struggled to handle the Scarlet Knights’ physicality in a 2-0 defeat.
Maryland will use that experience to improve against other Big Ten foes and take confidence from holding Rutgers scoreless for the opening 65 minutes.
“We were able to fight really hard against them and we just need to take the positives out of it and learn what we need to do,” midfielder Hope Lewandoski said. “We showed ourselves that we can compete against a very good team.”
Coach Ray Leone said Rutgers was “a little more sophisticated” than Maryland on Sunday, with their experience and talent taking control.
In addition, the Scarlet Knights were faster and stronger than many other teams the Terps have faced this year. Goalkeeper Rachel Egyed said the physical challenge “definitely increased” from Maryland’s nonconference contests.
Though the Terps anticipated the Scarlet Knights’ powerful style, experiencing it in the game caught them off-guard.
“Everybody after the first hit was kind of like, ‘Oh, wow,'” Egyed said. “We were a little surprised, but this is how it’s going to be. We just change from there and move forward.”
The smash-mouth style of play between the teams was evident from the opening kick. Within 25 minutes, starting forwards Jarena Harmon and Chelsea Jackson left injured after heavy challenges.
Egyed was proud of the way Maryland rebounded from those injuries and other hard-nosed plays on the pitch.
“Coming out with that mentality that we’re not going to let this team through us, that we’re not going to give them any chances, they’re going to have to earn everything that they get,” Egyed said. “Really proving a point to them and saying, ‘We are not going to be pushed around.'”
The Scarlet Knights’ imposing size is representative of the kind of opposition the Terps will face moving forward, so the players know they must adapt. Getting exposure to that style of play on Sunday was the first step in adjusting and learning how to compete against stronger opponents.
That especially rings true with the Big Ten gauntlet ahead of them. They’ll face 10 matches against difficult conference opponents over the next 37 days.
Lewandoski believes the Terps will be ready.
“Playing in the Big Ten, everyone wants it, everyone is diving in and giving their best effort,” Lewandoski said. “All games are physical. We just need to keep up with that and match the level of the other team and make sure that we’re strong and we’re really fighting.”
CORRECTION: Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story said the Terps were on a seven-game winning streak to start the season. The team won six of its first seven games and tied the other. This story has been updated.