After five years serving as an assistant coach, Jonathan Morgan finally got the call to take over the Terrapins women’s soccer team in early 2012. While he was getting a fresh start after the departure of former coach Brian Pensky, the program’s roster was a nearly clean slate as well: 16 of the 31 players on the roster were freshmen.
Morgan still steered the Terps to their fourth-straight NCAA tournament appearance last year, when they eventually suffered a second-round defeat to Denver in double overtime. This season, as the Terps age, the expectations increase. They lost four starters, but they have a roster that blends youth and experience, with seven underclassmen and three seniors in the starting lineup.
All of that has Morgan excited and ready.
“I feel much more comfortable this year, much more comfortable in the role,” he said. “Every game you try to learn a little something about yourself, try to learn a little something about your team and be better.”
Having completed their four-game, season-opening home stand, the Terps (4-0) have already shown how powerful their offense can be. They dominated The Citadel in a 9-0 win in the season opener, and they scored 18 goals in the four-game stretch.
Forward Hayley Brock is a big part of that offensive firepower. The senior from Acton, Mass., was a breakout star last year, earning All-ACC Second Team and ACC All-Tournament Team honors while scoring 13 goals. She already has nearly half of her scoring output from last year, netting six goals so far.
“She’s been a stud,” Morgan said. “That’s expected. She’s been a stud when people are draped all over her, and she still finds a way. I think we’re going to be able to score some goals this year, knock on wood.”
Morgan has offensive options off the bench, too, with forwards Cory Ryan and Gabby Galanti, who notched the go-ahead goal in a physical match against Navy on Sunday night. He also considered moving Ashley Spivey between the midfield and forward positions.
The Terps midfield may have the most new faces of any part of the team this year. With former starters Danielle Hubka and Olivia Wagner now on the sidelines as student assistants, Morgan will rely more on Spivey and fellow sophomores Riley Barger and Maisie McCune. He has also been starting freshman Lauren Berman, who may emerge as one of the team’s biggest scoring threats with two goals and three assists in four games.
Defensively, the Terps should also benefit from having a year under their belts. With defender Megan Gibbons’ ACL injury in early September last season, Morgan had to shuffle pieces around and played a unit that was either young, inexperienced or both. The Terps allowed 24 goals, the most given up since 2005. So far this season, the Terps have allowed two goals and recorded three shutouts.
“This year, [Morgan] challenged us to not give up as many goals, not to give up as many fouls and just to play good, solid defense: Keep the ball in front of us, don’t let shots get off, don’t let crosses get off, defend well in the air and be cleaner in the back,” defender Erika Nelson said. “We’re especially focusing on the basics, basic soccer.”
The team’s last line of defense will be the same as last season, with redshirt sophomore Rachelle Beanlands at goalkeeper. The Ottawa, Canada, native posted a 1.07 goals-against average along with five shutouts in her first year as the starter.
Her numbers may only drop with a better defensive unit in front of her.
“Last year was a bit of a learning curve, but I think this year we have a solid group in the back,” Beanlands said. “We’re all pretty coordinated, and we listen to each other, so it’s good.”
Ranked high in the polls at No. 15, the Terps have their sights on a fifth-straight NCAA tournament appearance. But this time around, they plan on making their stay last a lot longer.
“I think after having such a great season last year in the ACC and then losing in the second round, it was a really big disappointment and a letdown for all of us,” Brock said. “We’re coming back and trying not to repeat that this year.”