Iowa defender Riley Whitaker raised her arm, signaling to her teammates of the impending service, before sending a curling corner kick into the box during a match against Maryland women’s soccer on Sunday.
Whitaker’s bending ball didn’t find any of the Hawkeyes in the box, though, as gusty conditions carried it on target and just inside the goal, marking Iowa’s second goal in the first half.
So while Hawkeyes players ran toward the corner of the pitch to celebrate with Whitaker, the Terps walked back into their kickoff positions after finding themselves down 2-0 for the second game in a row.
And when the final whistle blew in the eventual 4-0 loss, it signaled the second time in as many games that Maryland had been shut out, falling flat against the pressure-oriented styles of its opponents.
“It was really disappointing,” coach Ray Leone said after the loss to Iowa. “We just didn’t have the legs today.”
[Read more: Iowa trounces Maryland women’s soccer, 4-0, in one-sided contest]
Despite a 1-0 loss to Ohio State, the Terps were in high spirits about their conference tournament prospects two weeks ago, having already won three Big Ten games this year — the most in program history.
As Maryland looked to capture its fourth conference win, it hit two speed bumps in Nebraska and Iowa.
On Friday night, the Terps played a Nebraska squad that had been underwhelming up to that point. The Cornhuskers had only three wins to show for their efforts, but they were a new challenge for Maryland.
Nebraska proved relentless, though, handing the Terps a taste of their own style. Maryland has become high-pressure, high-attacking — a strategy that has brought about most of its success. In the opening stages of most matches, the Terps are working harder and getting further down the pitch, and that’s by design.
“Coming in strong in the first five minutes of the game, that sets the pace and the tone of the game,” midfielder Loren Sefcik said after the loss to Illinois. “When we score the first goal, our mindset is to keep going.”
[Read more: Maryland women’s soccer shut out by Nebraska, 2-0]
When Maryland has gotten on the board early this season, it’s made all the difference. In its seven wins, the team has scored in the opening 10 minutes of five of them. The Terps have also yet to lose a game after scoring first. But, last week they met two squads that could match them pound for pound in both aggression and pressure, leaving the Terps scrambling to catch up.
The Hawkeyes and the Cornhuskers both controlled the ball for the majority of the opening half, a facet the Terps normally dictate. And both teams scored first, flipping the script on a Maryland squad that aims to control the tempo early.
“When it’s not going well and you’re down one, just hang on and don’t go down two,” Leone said. “Our team has to grow in that area. It’s not out of hand at all, but when you get down two you think of the mountain ahead of you.”
After last week’s performances, Maryland’s road to a first-ever Big Ten tournament berth grew more challenging. But while Iowa and Nebraska solved the Terps’ playstyle, senior Darby Moore has seen her team rebound from adversity before.
“The thing I’m most proud of our team is the fact that we’ve taken a couple hits this season,” Moore said Oct. 9, “and we’ve been able to move past every single one of them.”