When midfielder Jlon Flippens arrived on the campus this fall, she was hesitant to approach any of the Maryland women’s soccer seniors and felt intimidated at practice.
Senior midfielder Hope Gouterman didn’t let that last.
As Maryland prepared for its season opener against TCU on Aug. 19, Gouterman made an effort to learn about each new player during team meals. If she saw Flippens wasn’t talking during practice, she started a conversation with the Philadelphia native.
Though Flippens and Gouterman started each of Maryland’s first eight games, they rarely played alongside each other. But with forward/midfielder Natasha Ntone-Kouo out for the season with a knee injury, coach Ray Leone had the duo focus on defense entering the Terps’ Big Ten opener against Rutgers.
In that game, Flippens and Gouterman played on the same line for the first time, and because of their blossoming friendship, Leone said, they had strong chemistry.
“Definitely defensively, we’ve only played one game back there, and I thought we played really well,” Flippens said. “You have to be on the field to get it. We instantly clicked. We have each other’s back. It’s kind of hard to explain.”
As the team works to improve its communication, Leone said Flippens’ and Gouterman’s performances stand out. They matched up well defensively with several of the Scarlet Knights’ offensive threats. Their commitment in the air was impressive. They led a backline that allowed one goal, which came on a free kick.
Even before she met Flippens for the first time, Gouterman sensed they would have a strong relationship. Flippens, who was rated a four-star recruit by Top Drawer Soccer and scored 92 goals at William Penn Charter School, wasn’t what Gouterman deemed a “typical freshman.”
Flippens played with intensity on the field but appeared calm when handling the ball. Gouterman identifies her own play the same way, which encouraged her to approach Flippens for the first time.
“She does a really good job of keeping me in line,” Gouterman said. “That’s important because I need someone who could tell me what to do just as much as I could tell her. From the get-go, I knew she was going to be someone I could trust.”
Gouterman and Flippens’ trust prompted Leone to consider pairing them on the field. After one of the two is involved in a play, they give each other feedback and “compliment each other without thinking about it,” Flippens said.
“[Their relationship] is so important because we’ve changed so many things, systems, players, positions,” Leone said. “I’m looking forward to beginning with that and saying, ‘These are the relationships in the middle. Let’s focus on the outside.'”
As Maryland prepares for its Big Ten home opener against Illinois on Thursday night at Ludwig Field, Leone wants to see his midfielders make better passes and communicate to the surrounding players around their timing on the ball. He wants Gouterman and Flippens to use their relationship to lead the effort.
“It comes with a balance in any position,” Gouterman said. “It’s mainly communication on and off the field. It’s not just about a two-person relationship because you can have two people working together and not be successful.”
Before every game, Gouterman and Flippens alternate playing music in the locker room. The first song is often “hardcore rap” to set the mood, Flippens said. Then, the pair often plays songs by Hannah Montana or the Jonas Brothers that the whole team knows the lyrics to.
Now, instead of hesitating, Flippens is eager to get involved thanks to her relationship with Gouterman that was on display against the Scarlet Knights.
“We like to have some fun, because it ultimately transcends onto the field,” Flippens said. “We have the same personality. I don’t even know [how our friendship] happened, but I’m glad it did as quickly as it did.”