- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 18, 2011

Looking back at the difference between the Maryland women’s soccer program of today and three years ago, senior Jasmyne Spencer offers up a succinct description.

“It’s almost comical,” she said.

It wasn’t amusing at the time for anyone, least of all coach Brian Pensky. It was the last of four straight losing seasons, and pride in the program had bottomed out.

Yet since then, the once offensively starved Terrapins have come far enough to entertain thoughts of chasing a national title with one of the country’s most potent offenses.

“It’s funny because we have to explain to the younger girls,” senior Ashley Grove said. “It’s a complete [180]. No one believes that Brian used to yell all the time. No one believes everybody would stand there at practice and think ‘Please don’t call on me.’ “

It’s a different time in College Park, where the Terps are coming off consecutive NCAA tournament appearances and boast the highest preseason ranking (No. 6) in school history. Maryland opens its season Friday against No. 22 Minnesota at Ludwig Field.

It starts with the offense, the product of Pensky’s heavy allocation of program resources. In 2005, his first season, the Terps scored 13 goals in 19 games. It didn’t take long for him to decide nearly all of the Terps’ scholarship dollars were needed for attacking players.

“At the end of the day, this game is about scoring goals and putting teams on their heels,” said Pensky, whose team scored 53 goals during an 18-2-3 season last year.

Amassing talent was just the first step. After 2008, coaches prioritized instilling the team with an offensive-minded emphasis.

There were more deep-rooted changes as well. Grove said players’ work ethic and individual investment in the program rapidly changed for the better. Results on the field soon followed.

“It’s pretty much like they completely wiped our brains and told us what to do the next year,” Grove said.

The offense continued to develop as its young stars matured. Spencer reached double-digit goals the past two years. Grove combined for 16 goals in 2009 and 2010. Sade Ayinde, another current senior, enjoyed a breakout season last year with 10 goals.

Maryland adds three transfers and two freshmen to the attacking mix this season, leaving Pensky with a far different challenge than the one in place three years ago. Instead of wondering where the offense would come from, he must divvy up limited minutes to several capable options.

“I can’t begin to tell you right now how difficult this is going to be,” Pensky said. “We also can’t sit here and tell you we have it sorted. We don’t. At all. I’m really concerned about kids’ happiness this fall. They all know they’re here to win, and we’re all here to win. And it’s not about any one of us, and we have to do the whole team thing, but we have essentially 20 kids that could be starting.”

For players such as Spencer who have witnessed the program’s transformation, the increased depth is both welcome and a sign of how far the Terps have come in so little time.

“I feel like there’s so much more pride in being a part of Maryland soccer now than there was when we first came in,” Spencer said.

There’s enough certainty to foster talk of chasing a national title, even though the Terps never have reached a final four and last advanced to the quarterfinals in 1996. Such history doesn’t bother Grove, who has helped Maryland ignore the recent past and believes a championship is attainable this year with eight starters returning.

“That’s what all 29 of us are here to do,” Grove said. “We’re not here for any other reason.”

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