In the opening minutes of the Maryland women’s soccer team’s first overtime period against Drexel, Dragons forward Shaelyn McCarty unleashed a dangerous cross into the Terrapins’ box. On the receiving end, forward Morgan Rees volleyed home the game-winning goal.
Shortly before Maryland’s practice Tuesday, its first training session since the 1-0 loss Sunday to Drexel, coach Ray Leone and several defensive players worked out strategies and techniques to protect against crosses whipped into the box.
While the Terps (2-3-1) haven’t scored a goal in more than three games, the team’s defense has remained its strong suit, conceding just twice in the past three contests.
But as encouraging as the defense’s performance has been thus far, Maryland knows there’s still room for improvement, and that could start Thursday against UCF.
“We definitely need to work better as a unit defensively, and just work on working back and being tough in the middle, getting stuck in and just moving as a unit,” defender Jenna Surdick said. “But I think we’ve been pretty solid so far defensively in the back.”
Defender Julia New has emerged as a leader and provided stability along the backline, despite having played fewer minutes on the field, midfielder Hope Lewandoski said.
“J-New is just a beast on the backline,” Lewandoski said. “She does a lot of leading the young players.”
Lewandoski said New’s preparation sets her apart. And while she’s appeared in just two games thus far, New has played a key part in Maryland’s defensive improvement since the end of last year.
Over the Terps’ final six games of 2017, when the offense underwent a similar scoring drought as it is now, the defense allowed an average of two goals per game. So despite those offensive struggles, Leone entered 2018 primarily focused on shoring up his defense.
This year, the Terps have allowed 1.17 goals over their first six games.
When Maryland returns home to face UCF (1-2) on Thursday, it’ll need to end its attacking slump to earn its first win since a 3-1 victory over Appalachian State on Aug. 24. But for Leone, the defense can always improve.
“All the goals can be prevented,” Leone said. “Make them score a great goal — like App State scored a great goal, Temple scored a great goal. We’ll deal with that, but make every team earn it, and I don’t think we’ve done that very well.”