As she rode an exercise bike to loosen her ankle before practice Tuesday, forward Jarena Harmon drew a chorus of giggles from the Maryland women’s soccer training staff monitoring her.
“I wasn’t very good at taking care of my body,” she said.
Harmon is Maryland’s leading scorer this season, but she hasn’t gotten there without learning a key lesson about staying healthy. The minor ankle injury she suffered during Sunday’s draw against Navy is a reminder of how important it is for Harmon to be mindful of her body.
Last season, Harmon struggled to see the field after injuring her groin in Maryland’s first conference game. Without one of the leading cogs in their offensive attack, the Terps lost eight of their last 11 games and failed to score in their final six matchups.
During the offseason, Harmon set out to make sure that didn’t happen again.
“I am a lot stronger. My core strength is a lot better, my running form is better,” Harmon said. “Every part of being an athlete in the game of soccer is just hard work and focus. In the weight room and at workouts is how I flipped to get my fitness up to par.”
[Read more: Goalkeeper Rachel Egyed lifted Maryland women’s soccer to its first shutout of the year]
Even when she returned from the groin injury down the stretch last season, Harmon was ineffective, which she attributed to a lack of fitness. So from ice baths to stretching, she changed her approach to conditioning and training.
“When you’re exhausted, it’s really hard to focus and be a part of the team,” Harmon said. “Now that I’m more fit, I feel like I’m definitely more prepared.”
[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer opens 2018 with 2-1 win over William & Mary]
In 2016, Harmon’s first year with the Terps after transferring from Pittsburgh, she averaged 77 minutes in 19 games played. Then, she played just 39 minutes per game in 16 contests during her injury-laden 2017 campaign.
Without Harmon’s steady presence, the team was shut out for 641 consecutive minutes to end the year. Harmon’s return to health, coach Ray Leone said, has been vital to the team’s 2-1-1 start to the season.
“She … brings a great energy to the team,” Leone said. “She’s a big-time player. She played in the ACC and the Big Ten, and has performed well in both of those leagues. So it’s really showing for us on the field this year.”
Harmon has shown the results of her improved fitness, leading the Terps with three goals and six points.
Less than five minutes into the Terps’ season-opening 2-1 victory over William & Mary, Harmon tapped in her first goal of the year and tied her 2017 goal total. In the 88th minute, she doubled that with the game-winner.
Off the field, the Washington, D.C., native is known as a selfless teammate. She is a vocal supporter of Leone’s varied lineups this year, as long as it keeps the team fresh for the end of the season.
“It doesn’t matter if she starts or doesn’t start,” Leone said. “She’s the same person every time, so the second she comes out of the game she’s already helping the next kids that are going to go in.”
Harmon transferred to College Park in 2016 — the year Leone took over the program — and fit in immediately, goalkeeper Rachel Egyed said.
So while Harmon aims to lead the Terps to at least a .500 season for the first time since 2013, the rest of the team is just happy to have her back on the field, regardless of how much she scores.
“Since the day Jarena stepped foot on this campus and became a member of this family, she has brought an indescribable energy, whether it’s on the field or off,” Egyed said. “She’s the kind of teammate that every player dreams of having.”