After Pepperdine midfielder Rylee Baisden’s free-kick goal in the 99th minute lifted the Waves to a one-goal extra time victory over the Maryland women’s soccer team Sept. 2, defender Jlon Flippens cried as she left Ludwig Field.

Whether it was in high school or with her club team, Flippens, who started all four of Maryland’s contests entering the matchup, was often the player opponents fouled late in games. She was used to sending game-winning shots in the back of the net, though that wasn’t the case this time.

Flippens fouled Baisden just more than eight minutes into overtime, and Baisden converted. After Flippens and the Terps’ backline kept then-No. 25 Pepperdine off the board for more than 90 minutes, the Waves capitalized on a late opportunity.

The disappointing loss marked a turning point for Flippens. As one of three players to start every game for Maryland this season entering Wednesday’s season finale with No. 11 Minnesota, she’s become someone the Terps can look up to despite their struggles.

“Being in the back, I’m forced to talk. But that game, I thought I was a consistent leader,” Flippens said. “I changed as a player and teammate. [The loss] was hard to overcome.”

Coach Ray Leone has turned to several different defenders throughout the season — including Niven Hegeman, Marisa Knott, Lisa Bianchini, Madison Turner and Hope Gouterman — but Flippens has been a constant on Maryland’s backline. Despite her limited collegiate experience, Flippens has embraced her starting role.

Then midfielder Natasha Ntone-Kouo left Maryland’s Aug. 28 win over Penn with a knee injury, which would keep her out the rest of the season. With the Terps playing without their senior leader, Flippens stepped up.

“She’s been a mainstay and consistent in terms knowing how to play the position,” Leone said. “Her ability to win the ball is incredible. In a lot of practices and games, she’s just hard to pass by. She’s tall, agile and has good anticipation skills. It’s not just one game. It’s every game.”

As Maryland trailed by a goal or two early in games at the start of the season, Flippens said she “got discouraged a bit.” She felt partially responsible for the offense’s struggles, most notably because Leone has also used her as a forward at times.

Those issues have continued — the Terps haven’t scored in more than 400 minutes entering their game with the Golden Gophers — but Flippens has changed her outlook.

“I’ve definitely matured on the field,” Flippens said. “I’ve always had really bad body language. For people watching on TV, it doesn’t look good on my part or on Maryland’s part. [I worked on] body language and responding to deficits early on. I’m being more positive.”

Goalkeeper Rachel Egyed has noticed the change but said Flippens’ defense has been consistent. Egyed has never been concerned with Flippens “having an off day.”

“Her composure, especially on the ball [stands out],” Egyed said. “You never have to worry about someone ever getting by her. I was always confident, whether I was in goal or not. If you saw someone coming at her, you knew she would be composed enough to handle it herself or slow it down to get other people back to help.”

In this week’s practices, Leone said Flippens’ demeanor, despite the situation, has stood out. The Terps enter the final game of the season on an eight-game losing streak, but Flippens is “playing quicker and sharper on all sides of ball.”

She has embraced the circumstances, just as she was forced to do after Maryland’s loss to Pepperdine.

“These kids are competitive,” Leone said. “When you get something taken away from you that you aspire to the whole season, and then it’s no longer an option, it takes a little while to deal with that. I’m pleased with how she’s responded. I’m pleased that she’s like ‘I’m ready to go and I’m going to give it everything I’ve got these last couple of games.'”