The Maryland women's soccer team didn't allow a first-half score through nine games this season.
But in the Terps' 10th contest — a Sunday road tilt against Northwestern — the squad conceded twice in the opening 21 minutes.
Despite improvements late in the game, the Terps fell, 2-0, to the Wildcats. After starting the season unbeaten through seven nonconference matches, Maryland has lost two of its first three Big Ten contests.
The first-half issues began in the 17th minute when Maryland failed to clear a corner. Northwestern forward Brenna Lovera managed to pick up the ball in a crowded area and score, giving the Wildcats the lead. Four minutes later, the Wildcats struck again on defender Hannah Davison's header.
Maryland coach Ray Leone said the Terps knew the Wildcats would use Davison's height — 5-foot-8 — and they tried to stop it but succumbed to the pressure on those set pieces.
"It was really unfortunate to let up those goals because we were actually playing pretty well leading up to those goals," Leone said. "Then they got two really good goals back-to-back like that and now you're changing the game."
Due to several injuries to first-choice forwards, the Terps started Jlon Flippens, normally a defender or midfielder, as a lone striker. Behind her, Maryland (7-2-1, 1-2-0 Big Ten) set up defensively, with five players across the midfield. Leone pointed to Friday night, when the Terps won with six freshmen, saying they're still moving pieces around with some key pieces missing.
With Maryland sitting back, Northwestern (5-4-2, 2-1-1) went at the Terps' defense. The pressure made it difficult for the Terps to piece together consecutive passes, and they found it particularly challenging to get the ball up the field to Flippens.
Maryland committed 11 fouls as it attempted to win back the ball. However, the Terps saw out the final 69 minutes of the game without conceding another goal. Leone said the team "didn't fold up the tent" following the Northwestern scores, but it struggled to get a goal back.
The Terps shifted players around following the intermission, placing Madison Turner up top as striker, dropping Flippens into midfield to get her on the ball more and replacing goalkeeper Rachel Egyed with Erin Seppi.
"We grew throughout the game and we didn't let up," midfielder Kate Waters said. "It was cool to see us bounce back from what had happened in the first half."
But while Maryland threatened Northwestern more as the match wore on, the Wildcats' defense stood firm, with goalkeeper Lauren Clem making five saves. The loss marked the second time this season the Terps failed to find the back of the net.
Leone said that while the confidence the team has built has taken a hit, it should not waver.
"We'll build the energy back up and remind [the team] where we are right now," Leone said. "We're a lot further along than we were last year, that's for sure."