Ray Leone isn’t changing his approach.
The Maryland women’s soccer coach made sure the players on his roster at Harvard could work from any position, if necessary. Four games into the Terps’ season, Leone is hoping to do the same.
For example, senior Hope Gouterman, a midfielder on Maryland’s roster, has played right back, center back, center midfield and attacking midfield this season.
Leone wants that versatility to become the standard in his program.
“If you’re a good player, you can do that,” Leone said. “We’re trying to teach our players we can adjust on the fly. We’ve done it in the last couple of games, moving crazy positions because that’s what we need to do.”
When the team practiced last spring, Leone didn’t have much depth to turn to. Without the 14 incoming freshmen or transfers, he forced “about a dozen” players on his roster to play unfamiliar positions.
Gouterman said one of the team’s biggest challenges was finding a place to fit each player’s skill set.
“[We had to understand] at first versatility is a challenge,” Gouterman said. “I see it as more of a helpful thing to get us through knowing that anyone can play anywhere. It’s less of a challenge now and more of something that can push us through.”
In Sunday’s 3-1 win over Penn, Maryland displayed that mentality.
Forward/midfielder Natasha Ntone-Kouo started 12 of Maryland’s 19 games last season but now has a new role. Through four games in 2016, Ntone-Kouo has instead started on the back line.
But with about 22 minutes remaining in the Terps’ second win of the season, Ntone-Kouo, one of five seniors on the Terps’ roster, collided with Penn forward Emma Loving on the far side of the field. As Loving attempted to spin toward the goal, Ntone-Kouo fell to the ground.
Ntone-Kouo was carted off the field, which Leone said was “precautionary.”
After Ntone-Kouo went down, Leone inserted forward Lisa Bianchini, who played for 32 minutes. Midfielder/forward Kate Waters and defender Jenna Surdick also saw time as substitutes as the game progressed.
“This team is a very versatile group,” Leone said. “They had to play all kinds of different positions [in the spring] because we had no choice. They’re comfortable going back and forth from forward to back at any moment.”
In the absence of Ntone-Kouo, Maryland allowed a goal in the 69th minute, but forward Jarena Harmon’s header less than 90 seconds later maintained the Terps’ two-goal lead. Leone is confident the “next person up” mentality he implemented with the Crimson will give the Terps valuable depth in their second half of non-conference play.
“We’ve played so many different positions all over the field,” Gouterman said. “You never know when you have 14 new players what you’re going to get. Their fight has been infectious to the entire team.