When Maryland women's soccer forward Jarena Harmon took on Drexel goalkeeper Libby Baeza in the early stages of Sunday's matchup, it seemed the Terps' leading scorer would put her side on the board for the first time since their 3-1 victory three games earlier.
But Harmon couldn't capitalize on the opportunity. Her shot trickled wide left, and the Terps were shut out for the third time in four games.
Despite her three goals so far this season, Harmon is still acclimating to her scoring role after missing much of last season because of an injury. Between Harmon's occasional hiccups and fellow forwards Mikayla Dayes and Alyssa Poarch working to return to form after suffering season-ending knee injuries last year, the Terps' front line remains out of rhythm early in 2018.
"Their touch is off and all that kind of stuff," coach Ray Leone said. "It takes longer than a month to get back in when you've been out a year."
Maryland's 2018 scoring average of .83 goals per game isn't far from its 2017 average of .89. But last year, the Terps went cold in Big Ten play, failing to find the net in their final six outings of the season; against nonconference foes, the team averaged 1.71 goals per game.
Leone has varied his lineups and used frequent substitutions to help his recovering players reacclimate to the pace of play and remain healthy. In Sunday's match with Drexel, he subbed out Harmon midway through the first half; her replacement, Dayes, played about 20 minutes before getting a rest.
The rotation also aimed to prolong the Terps' strong start, as they outshot the Dragons 5-4 in the first half. But Drexel wore Maryland down; after halftime, Leone's team was outshot 14-5 and fell 1-0 in overtime.
"We subbed a lot in the first half, and that got us through," Leone said. "I thought energy-wise we were able to survive it, but maybe in overtime that was a little difference they had on us and that's all it took."
For the Terps to be successful down the stretch, they'll need to strike the right balance between playing a consistent lineup to get a sharper attack, and resting the main contributors to keep them healthy for conference play, which begins next week.
"We've got several players that have been out a year, and now are being asked to play quite an amount of time," Leone said. "So it's going to take them a little bit.
"We've got another couple weeks before we get to the Big Ten, and we've got work to do."