For the first time since 2011, the Maryland women’s soccer team went through its nonconference schedule unbeaten. Its stretch of seven matches without a loss is the best since the 2011 team went unblemished through eight.
Prior to this run, the program hadn’t won more than three consecutive games since 2014.
The Terps’ focus now turns to a daunting Big Ten schedule. Since joining the conference in 2014, the Terps (6-0-1) have won five of 35 Big Ten matchups.
Though the Terps are encouraged by their early success, they know qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2012 will be another challenge.
“The slate is clean,” coach Ray Leone said of Maryland’s nonconference schedule. “That really was a fantastic start, and they should be proud of it no matter what happens. Now put it away, and let’s move on to the next step.”
No. 13 Rutgers (6-0-1) will be the first ranked team the Terps face this season. While four overtimes and five one-goal wins provided solid experiences for the team to build from, it knows facing the Scarlet Knights is a tall order.
That’s why a 10-day break after their win against William & Mary was a breath of fresh air.
In addition to getting more rest, the Terps partook in competitive practices and improved tactics, an intensity level that’s hard to practice at when the team usually plays twice a week.
“It’s important to kind of regroup after nonconference play,” midfielder Hope Gouterman said. “It’s exciting to be able to have some time to work on things. It can only help us prepare for the future.”
The Scarlet Knights have faced tough foes this season, defeating No. 21 Connecticut and drawing No. 15 Georgetown. With Rutgers’ strong pedigree, the Terps expect increased intensity, pace and all-around skill from a team Leone labeled as “one of the best in the country.” The competitive nature will be unlike any game the Terps have played so far, Gouterman added.
“Moving into Big Ten play, we play these teams every year, so it’s a rivalry, but not a rivalry,” forward Chelsea Jackson said. “We know what each of the teams are like, and we want to come out with a win, so it’s going to be a mental battle as well as a physical battle.”
Gouterman said the Terps are excited to use the Rutgers game to gauge where they stand in the conference. But Leone said the Terps, who went 1-10 in conference action in 2016, have been preparing for tough Big Ten opponents since the spring.
“It’s a bigger stage,” Jackson said. “The Big Ten is a great conference, so to be able to play against these types of teams will really test what our team is made of. I think we’re preparing for that and we’re excited for that as well.”