Editor’s Note: Fall sports are around the corner, so we’re going to start previewing the teams for the upcoming season. Here’s part one of our two-part women’s soccer preview, written by Zack Ward.
In the days and months that followed Maryland women’s soccer’s shocking elimination from the second round of the NCAA tournament, the accolades paying tribute to their historic regular season came pouring in one after another, perhaps making the nausea of their postseason shortcomings all the worse.
The number-one seeded Terrapins (18-2-3), a Final Four favorite, lost in a shootout to unseeded Georgetown (15-7-2) on Nov. 14, 2010, denying head coach Brian Pensky’s team a trip to the sweet sixteen.
Five days later, senior Caitlin McDowell was named to ESPN’s Academic All-America second team and junior Jasmyne Spencer was recognized on TopDrawerSoccer.com’s “Team of the Season” third team.
Then, on Dec. 2, Spencer was named first team All-Southeast Region by the NSCAA, while McDowell made second team and sophomore Domenica Hodak made third team. Spencer also went on to be selected as a NSCAA All-American, the first Terp selected since 1996.
On Dec. 22, the team received perhaps its highest honor of the offseason when Soccer America named Pensky Women’s Coach of the Year.
McDowell, Yewande Balogun, Colleen Deegan and Molly Dreska capped the onslaught of awards on Feb. 24, 2011 when all four were honored on the All-ACC Academic Team. McDowell headlined the group as the ACC Women’s Soccer Scholar-Athlete of the Year.
The team knew this level of recognition was on its way; their 2010 regular season had been the greatest in the history of the program. They defeated 20-time national champion North Carolina for the first time in program history. They defeated final four participant Boston College for the first time in program history. Jasmyne Spencer lit it up offensively with her second consecutive 10-goal season, while McDowell doubled her career assist total with a team-high 12. After opening the season in impressive fashion with an undefeated August and September, Pensky’s Terps went on to post the best winning percentage in program history (.848). They also won a program-record seven ACC contests.
More after the jump.
But the tough part to swallow is that all of this culminated with a loss in the round of 32 on their home turf to an opponent from an inferior conference. And when you look back on the 2010 season, it’s hard to look past the Terps’ failure to seize the moment when the stakes were highest in their final three games.
First they lost in a shootout to Wake Forest in the ACC championship game. Then, they came out flat in the first round of NCAA tournament against effective 16-seed High Point. Not only did the Terps fail to score first against the lowly Panthers, but they also waited until the 71st minute before breaking a 1-1 tie. Maryland faced Georgetown two days later and the Terps were eliminated from tournament play by way of a shootout for the second time in 2010.
Many of the team’s key contributors played with the flu during the Georgetown game. But that doesn’t account for the way they let High Point hang around or their inability to come up clutch during two high-pressure shootouts.
If a Sasho Cirovski team was one of the top-four teams in the nation entering the tournament and then failed to make the Sweet 16, it would be considered a major disappointment. But some people have sort of let the women’s team off easy this one time because they feel like them finally beating UNC stands as the single greatest achievement in the history of the program regardless of what happened in the postseason.
However, the standards should be raised in 2011, now that being a national powerhouse is no longer uncharted territory for the Maryland women. And with UNC being where the bar is set, Pensky’s crew needs to start measuring themselves based on postseason success if they want to be considered great.
For example, both of the men’s losses in the past two elite eights have been treated as unacceptable from within the program. Will the women’s team start to adopt the Cirovski mentality of “we won’t be satisfied until we win our next national championship”?
One thing we know is that their wait to start fresh will soon be over. The Terps host West Virginia in their first exhibition game of 2011 on Aug. 10.