With vaunted Wisconsin up next, Maryland women’s soccer hopes to ride its home success

Defender Malikae Dayes attempts a shot during Maryland women's soccer's 1-1 draw against Temple on Sept. 12, 2019, at Ludwig Field. (Gabby Baniqued)

When the horn sounded at the end of Sunday’s game against Princeton, the Maryland women’s soccer team left Ludwig field with a resounding 3-0 win over a formidable Tigers team.

It was the finishing touch on a strong nonconference slate for the Terps. But now their attention turns to outperforming their No. 13 Big Ten preseason ranking.

And following their strongest performance of the year, the Terps will welcome Big Ten powerhouse Wisconsin to Ludwig Field — where Maryland is undefeated this year — to open conference play Friday as they look to hold their own at home in a conference that has proven difficult to crack.

“It’s always about protecting this house,” defender Julia New said. “That’s just how it is. It doesn’t matter who is coming, we protect it and we just have to do our best.”

[Read more: After enduring a tough recovery from ACL injury, Jlon Flippens shined for Maryland soccer]

Maryland’s (4-2-2) win over Princeton was its fourth home victory out of five games played at Ludwig Field, with the fifth being a draw with Temple on a last-minute goal from the Owls.

The Terps defense has made College Park a tough place for opposing attacking units to play in, allowing just two goals at home. The Maryland backline’s success can be largely attributed to defender Malikae Dayes, who was announced Tuesday as the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.

“I have no doubt in my mind she is one of the best players in the entire country,” coach Ray Leone said. “She’s humble, she works hard, she never quits, she’s a dominating presence out there.”

Despite the strong play of the defense, Leone’s main focus for the squad during practice this week was shoring up exactly that. “It’s not about letting up goals,” he said, stressing the importance of keeping their opponents isolated.

Wisconsin (4-2-1) is coming into Friday’s matchup after falling to UCLA for its second loss of the year. The Badgers entered the year ranked No. 3 in the Big Ten. Wisconsin’s strong backline will be the real challenge for the Terps to get through, having conceded only four goals this season.

“They’re all ridiculous, every team in the Big Ten is really, really special,” Leone said. “Wisconsin has been in the top four for quite some time. It’s a good measuring stick to see how we match up with them and see if we’re ready for that.”

[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer’s 3-0 win over Princeton left the team with plenty to smile about]

Wisconsin has struggled when they are away from home, holding a 1-2-1 record when not in Madison. The Badgers have also spent extra time on the field, taking four of their matchups in a row to overtime. Their last two games have concluded in regulation.

The Badgers’ defense will have their hands full with the Maryland attack, which has been operating at a high level as of late. The Terps put up eight goals in their last four games, led by forwards Alyssa Poarch and Mikayla Dayes.

Poarch and Dayes have been a tough tandem for opponents so far, and with a midfield revamped by the return of Jlon Flippens, Maryland believes it has an opportunity to turn a few heads.

“We’re just focusing on us,” New said. “This is our game. It doesn’t matter what everyone else is doing. It’s about how we play, how we decide to show up in practice and at games.”

After the Terps’ upset of Princeton on Sunday at home, the team is confident it can keep up with the heightened competition of Big Ten play — especially when playing at Ludwig Field.

“Having a huge result against a good team gives us confidence and makes us believe in ourselves,” Flippens said. “That we can play against these top-notch teams and have a top-notch performance.”

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