Coach Ray Leone looked on in horror in the 74th minute of Maryland women’s soccer’s game against No. 13 Penn State as Nittany Lions midfielder Laura Freigang collected a cross with her chest, turned and smashed a volley destined for the back of the net.
Like she had many times before, goalkeeper Rachel Egyed clawed the shot away.
“I haven’t seen a save like that in a decade,” Leone said. “That was incredible.”
Though Freigang later scored in overtime to hand the Terps a 1-0 loss, Leone said Sunday was the Terps’ best defensive performance in his almost two years as Maryland’s head coach, thanks to Egyed and the backline.
“You couldn’t have asked for more from this team,” Egyed said.
The Nittany Lions (10-3-2, 6-1-2 Big Ten), who rank second in the conference, average nearly two goals per game. However, the Terps (7-7-2, 1-7-1 Big Ten) kept the visitors scoreless for more than 94 minutes.
Maryland’s defense weathered Penn State’s constant pressure, as the Nittany Lions outshot the Terps, 15-1. Egyed finished with five saves, providing a boost to her teammates.
“She’s crazy, she’s so good,” defender Sydney Staier said. “We all take the way Rachel approaches the game, and we all channel that.”
Ahead of Egyed, the back-four of Madison Turner, Jlon Flippens, Julia New and Staier limited space around the penalty area and forced Penn State to try some shots from long distance.
Leone said part of Egyed’s series of reaction saves Sunday were due to the tightness of her defense. That allowed her to make decisions quicker, he added.
“There was never a doubt that somebody wasn’t working as hard as they could,” Egyed said. “All those small things, they added up. That’s what kept us in the game, not one specific thing that we did or changed, but the effort and energy that everyone brought out today.”
The defenders’ communication improved, Leone said, but they also had help. The second-year coach believes the midfielders tracked back better against the Nittany Lions, meaning the defenders weren’t left as isolated as in past matches.
“This is going to be really good for our program moving forward as a start,” Staier said. “We played how we want to build our program. This is, like, a sneak peak. We did really well with our communication in the back and the organization throughout the field, I think, is the best we’ve done all season.”
The Terps had lost their previous four games by a combined score of 12-1. With that in mind, coupled with a grueling contest against No. 12 Ohio State just three days earlier, Leone felt the team should take pride in its effort Sunday.
While the performance may not be reflected in the scoreline, the Terps will use the Penn State game as a reminder of their defensive potential as they prepare for their final two matches of the season.
“It’s encouraging because we’re young and we can’t waste these games,” Leone said. “Even though we’re not in a good position to do what we want to do this year, we still can’t waste these games. We learned today, immensely.”