Meghan Ryan Nemzer walked off the soccer field with tears in her eyes.
The coach’s emotions weren’t because Maryland women’s soccer gave up a late tally against Rutgers in a 1-0 loss, she said. Instead, they were for her long history with the Scarlet Knight, which goes all the way back to 2004.
Saturday’s outing was a homecoming for Nemzer, who played and coached for Rutgers before coming to Maryland.
“I’m getting a little emotional thinking about it,” Nemzer said.
Becoming Maryland women’s soccer’s head coach was a dream come true for the Crofton native. Nemzer could have joined the Terps after high school. Her brother was a Maryland student, but Nemzer ultimately chose Rutgers, which was close enough for her family to see her play.
ACL injuries sidelined Nemzer during her playing career, but she learned valuable lessons from observing training sessions on the sideline with the coaching staff. Listening to coaches’ remarks, instead of “fooling around,” allowed her to become quicker with her brain rather than faster with her feet, Nemzer said.
She spent three seasons co-captaining the Scarlet Knights, anchoring the backline. Serving as captain allowed her to become connected with the entire team and develop leadership skills while still a player.
Portland Thorns general manager and former Olympic goalkeeper Karina LeBlanc mentored Nemzer in her leadership role. LeBlanc, also a former Rutgers assistant coach, was one of the best “culture leaders” Nemzer’s been around, she said.
“I think soccer is easy, right?” Nemzer said. “There’s tangibles that make you stand out as a coach, as a leader, as a captain. I think I learned that a lot through her.”
2015 U17 ECNL National Championship
She led the highly successful New Jersey-based soccer club Players Development Academy, which frequently sends players to Rutgers. Her coaching efforts led the U-17 PDA Arsenal to an Elite Club National League championship in 2015, marking Nemzer the first female head coach to win an ECNL national title.
“It was weird to see some of the girls that I’ve coached, since they were like 12 years old, on that field,” Nemzer said. “But it was nice to see them after the game and the welcome.”
Lauren Wrigley, Sydney Urban and Katie Coyle, now staples for the Terps, played for PDA in their club soccer years. They had familiarity with Nemzer when they entered the transfer portal, which led to them join Maryland.
Nemzer returned to Rutgers women’s soccer as an assistant coach in 2008. She became associate head coach in 2014 and kept the role for eight seasons until becoming Maryland’s head coach ahead of the 2022 season.
As a young coach, Nemzer learned how to fix her mistakes. She developed her work ethic, discipline and attention to detail while at Rutgers and now emphasizes those points at Maryland..
“Yes, you get measured by wins and losses and that will come,” Nemzer said. “But how people treat each other, how they’ve felt … whether you’re player one or player 30, that to me is really, really important.”
To Nemzer, defense wins championships.
Maryland’s backline has been its strength this season. The unit has played a pivotal role in producing more offensive opportunities and clearing the ball out of danger to transition up the field. The Terps’ defense has struggled in Big Ten play, allowing 15 goals in six conference games, a mark Nemzer knows must improve over its final four matches.
Maryland is tied for last in the Big Ten standings as its hopes of making the conference tournament dwindle. But Nemzer knows what success in the conference looks like. Rutgers reached the conference title game three times while Nemzer was a player and coach. Hard work, discipline and details will eventually get Nemzer’s new team to that level.
“If you like the game, don’t come here,” Nemzer said. “But if you love the game, come here because I love to be out on the field. I love to be out with the team, I love to be out with the coaching staff. That’s my favorite part of the day.”
Rutgers played a pivotal role in shaping Nemzer. So when her new team battled her old one, the coach wasn’t afraid to let her emotions show. With Maryland, Nemzer will rely on what she learned at Rutgers to restore the Terps to Big Ten prominence.
“I knew that we would have to play Rutgers at some point. I kept pushing it off thinking about it,” Nemzer said. “But every day I get to call this place my home and I get to do it with amazing girls.”