When Natasha Ntone-Kouo arrived at one of the Maryland women’s soccer team’s first practices, the forward was asked to play a name game. That was a challenge for some players, according to coach Ray Leone, for the first three or four days.
During subsequent practices, Leone told Ntone-Kouo and her teammates to mix up the squads during scrimmages. As drills progressed, he asked each player to speak to those in front of and behind them in line.
Ntone-Kouo, one of only six seniors on the Terps roster, may have questioned this exercise in past seasons.
But with so few returning players, and a handful of transfers to complement six freshmen, she embraced first-year coach Ray Leone’s approach entering the team’s season opener against TCU on Friday night.
“There’s definitely a sense of you can connect with anyone on the team regardless of class or position,” Ntone-Kouo, said. “One of our main goals is to bring those connections on the field so we can have successful soccer games.”
Maryland, which lost 10 players from last year to graduation, hasn’t made an NCAA tournament appearance or ended the season with a winning record since 2012. In the Big Ten preseason women’s soccer poll, the Terps are ranked last.
They’re looking forward to proving themselves as the underdog.
“I say this season is an opportunity,” midfielder Kate Waters said. “There are people thinking we’re not going to do anything because maybe we’ve had a few bad seasons in the past. They’re not expecting anything from us, so we can shock them.”
Maryland planned to have a scrimmage against Georgetown Saturday, but a “dangerous heat situation” prevented the team from traveling to Washington, D.C., Leone said.
The Terps then arranged for the Hoyas to travel to College Park, but inclement weather resulted in the scrimmage being cancelled. Leone said not having the matchup puts his team at a disadvantage, but he wants to have every player in a game-type environment before Maryland begins Big Ten play.
“We’ll put a group out there and see how they do,” Leone said. “I really am hoping we can play more than just a small number and that we can develop everybody on the team to get their shot.”
Each time he drives by Ludwig Field, Leone stops to admire the setup arranged for his team’s first contest. And during each practice, he makes sure his youthful squad doesn’t take its experiences for granted.
That started with learning everyone’s name.
“If you tested everybody [now], they would know everyone’s names,” Leone said. “I was like ‘Geez, we really are a new team’ when [players] didn’t know literally every person. We’re past that. Whatever happens in that first game happens, but at least we play with passion and we build from there.”