This time last season, the Maryland women's soccer team was finishing its nonconference schedule, a turbulent stretch in which it won two out of eight games.
This year, the situation is quite different.
Coach Ray Leone's second season has shown many signs of progress, as the Terps remain unbeaten heading into their Thursday contest against William and Mary. Prior to their first Big Ten clash with Rutgers and the intense schedule that follows, the Terps (5-0-1) have one more chance to sharpen some aspects of their game up when they host the Tribe.
"There's definitely a sense of confidence that we hold because of how we've been doing, but we all know that we can't rely on past games to determine how we play that day," goalkeeper Rachel Egyed said. "We have to come out each day and continue to fight as hard as we've been."
Leone has commended his players for the way they've grown through their first six games. He still wants to see some improvements.
The Terps have at times looked disjointed or slow during their recent stretch of four consecutive overtime games — but he's proud that they've continued to fight. Against George Mason on Sunday, when they stumbled out of the gates, he said the ideas and creativity were there, just in the wrong places.
On Thursday, the Terps have a chance to continue their progress against the Tribe (4-2-0). In Leone's mind, it starts with the pace of play so they can keep up with Rutgers and the rest of their conference foes.
"We're going to have to improve our speed of play and our speed of thought," Leone said. "They're such a high-pressuring team, and we've got to solve it."
The Terps struggled against George Mason's high press, so it will be a focal point if Willam and Mary applies early pressure. The teams that employ such tactics have created another point of emphasis for the Terps: possession.
Midfielder Hope Lewandoski, who has also been playing right back as well as left wing, said the Terps have to be sharper in their passing so they can keep the ball away from high-intensity defenders.
Lewandoski is often at the base of the midfield when she plays that position, so she tends to see the ball a lot and is one of the main distributors for the Terps as they look to attack. From her view, they've had good moments in possession, but she feels they too often rush as they move toward goal.
"Sometimes we play like we have a shot clock," Lewandoski said. "We just need to focus on keeping the ball better and finding the right shots rather than forcing them. Keeping the ball, so that we can take our time in attack, is key moving forward."
Improving possession and speed of play go hand-in-hand, as moving the ball faster than your opponent gives you more time to look for the right option. Those concepts, along with finishing out games, sit high on the Terps' list of areas to refine.
However, the Terps' performance throughout the nonconference schedule has given them plenty of confidence in their abilities despite their flaws. They hope to finish out the first stage of the season strong, and move into the meat of the schedule where they can continue their early success.
"Over the course of the last month and a half, the way that we have all bonded, played with each other, learned each other and gotten so much closer, this team can do anything that we set our minds to," Egyed said. "The mindset all these girls hold and the way they can inspire and pump each other up, any day we can come out, if we really want to, and beat any team."