Maryland's success a team effort
COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- It's easy to overlook Maryland in the NCAA women's soccer bracket. The Terrapins (11-5-4) finished in the middle of the pack in the ACC, losing three of their final four games. They didn't travel well either, going 4-4-1 on the road.
But none of those records matter in the NCAA tournament, where it's win or go home.
Maryland's 5-1, first-round win Friday over La Salle in chilly College Park reminded everyone -- including the Terrapins themselves -- what the team can bring to the field. Next up is Friday's second-round game against Auburn in Stillwater, Okla., with the winner facing the Oklahoma State-Illinois winner Sunday.
While several teams can boast better records this season, few can match the Terps' experience. Maryland starts a collection of juniors and seniors who brought an end to a streak of losing seasons with a 14-6-2 record and a Sweet 16 appearance in 2009 and an 18-2-3 record last year.
"Some of our results [this year] don't show how well we've been playing," sophomore forward Hayley Brock said. "We've had some bad luck."
Though Maryland won its first-round NCAA game at home, it wasn't easy. In the 84th minute, the Terps were nursing a 2-1 lead in front of a small home crowd boosted by a sizable contingent of La Salle fans enraged by two questionable penalty kicks and some non-calls in the Maryland box.
"Home or on the road, we've never played in an atmosphere like this," Maryland coach Brian Pensky said. "We told them afterward this was great for us to have to deal with this sort of adversity. We had 100 people behind our goalkeeper, riling her up. We finally got that third goal, and I think it kind of broke their backs.
"The game was constantly on the line, and we're getting pushed, yelled at and cursed at by their fans. But the whole time, I thought our kids remained composed. From here on out, we're on the road, so who knows whether we'll be in hostile environments like that again."
The La Salle fans saved their loudest cursing for the referee, who seemed to give the Maryland defense a bit more leeway than he gave the visitors. Their team, which had given up only seven goals in 19 games, didn't have the composure of the veteran-laden Terrapins.
"I think the greatest thing about this team right now is that we have a lot of seniors and upperclassmen," senior midfielder Amy O'Sullivan said. "Coach brought us in with nine minutes to play and said to play like we know how to play. Keep our composure; keep the ball."
Brock, a transfer from Penn State, scrambled the back-breaking third and fourth goals into the net. Though she's one of the few underclassmen to contribute for the Terrapins, Brock has more experience than the typical sophomore, playing for the USA in the 2008 Under-17 Women's World Cup.
"We brought her off the bench, but in reality, she's a starter," Pensky said. "It's an embarrassment of riches."
The Maryland attack is indeed rich -- and balanced. Junior midfielder Olivia Wagner has eight goals. Brock has seven, and three players have five each.
That list doesn't even include the top returning scorers from last year, seniors Jasmyne Spencer and Sade Ayinde. They're still contributing, even if their numbers don't match the 10 goals each player scored in 2010.
Spencer, a first-team All-ACC player in 2009 and 2010, was named to the second team this year after keeping defenses busy despite scoring only two goals. The diminutive forward, generously listed at 5-foot-1, drew the second penalty kick on a slashing run in the box and won a ball in the air for a Maryland scoring chance.
"That's just Jasmyne," Pensky said. "She's not all that pleased with her tangible goal-scoring production this fall, but every team knows when you play Maryland, you're playing against Jasmyne Spencer. She continues to be a threat and a handful."
Spencer has more bruises than goals to show for her effort -- "I have good days and sore nights," she said with a smile -- but the scoreboard gives her all the consolation she needs.
"In certain games, I'll end up getting man-marked," Spencer said, "but we have a bunch of other threats up top who have been coming up big all season. If it means my numbers dwindle and we keep winning, I'm fine with that."