Anybody who stumbled upon the Maryland men's soccer training facilities this week would've seen a rare sight: the Terps' starters getting a chance to practice.
Maryland had a week between its previous game — a 1-0 win at Ohio State — and Friday's trip to Madison, Wisconsin, to play the Badgers.
It's the team's longest break this season, and the Terps said the extra time has led to the most productive training sessions of the year.
"It's a blast to play soccer again at practice," defender Chase Gasper said, "and not just focus on rehabbing your body."
After taking the weekend off, the Terps practiced four consecutive days. Before that stretch, the team had just two four-day breaks between games this season. With time to recover built in, the squad couldn't train every day of those gaps.
"After preseason hits, it's very difficult," coach Sasho Cirovski said. "You're kind of resting and recovering one group and keeping the [reserve players] sharp."
The week of the starters playing soccer was a welcome change from the usual training routine. But with their break coming deep in the season, the team didn't push itself too hard.
The lack of time between games is one of the reasons Cirovski and many Maryland players advocate for the college men's soccer season to move to a two-semester system, with games played throughout the fall and spring.
"With the college season, it's just, 'play a game, and then recover, play a game,'" midfielder Jake Rozhansky said. "This week was, played a game, had some time to rest, and now we can actually train and prepare in better ways because we're more rested and have time."
Cirovski said striking the balance between refreshing and preparing for Wisconsin was crucial for the team's coaching staff, and Gasper said many members of the team have been spending time in the treatment room.
"It's that part of the season where guys are really starting to get heavy legs," Gasper said.
Fatigued lower bodies would be especially detrimental to the team against the Badgers, whom the Terps expect to try to strike off counterattacks.
It's a strategy many Maryland opponents use in response to the team's talented midfield. The unit is adept at maintaining possession and pressure, forcing teams to commit to defense in response and hope to find counterattack opportunities.
To avoid giving up those chances, the Terps focus on being smart with their attacks. But, in Gasper's words, "You're never going to have a perfect game," and sometimes teams will capitalize on the counterattack.
Once they do, the key to defending is rather simple, said the Terps, who have been successful at preventing counterattacks this year.
"Just the will to get back and defend and make those tough runs," Rozhansky said. "We prepare for [them] with the fitness we've been doing over the summer and preseason."
This week's practices took on more of a preseason feel. The extra focus on rest has the Terps feeling confident entering their penultimate Big Ten game of the regular season.
"Then [it's] back to the grind of the no week-long break," Gasper said. "But everyone looks great [and] feels great, so [we're] looking forward to the Wisconsin game."