Commentary

Terps seize the day

Updated: October 12, 2010, 3:46 PM ET
By Graham Hays | ESPN.com

NEWTON, Mass. -- Building a successful ACC program means committing to the long run, so it was fitting that Maryland's biggest win of the season came courtesy of 90 minutes of sprinting.

[+] EnlargeJasmyne Spencer
Maryland AthleticsJasmyne Spencer and Maryland knocked off Boston College.

On the road and trailing Boston College by a goal with just 15 minutes to play Thursday, Maryland rallied for two late tallies and a 2-1 win. That marked just the fourth conference road win in the past five seasons for the Terrapins, who followed it with a fifth in Sunday's 1-0 win at NC State to claim sole possession of third place behind Florida State and Wake Forest.

There was a degree of good fortune in Maryland's win in Boston, its second win in as many weeks against a top-10 team after beating Virginia seven days earlier. Amy O'Sullivan's equalizer in the 76th minute came after a bobble by the Boston College keeper unexpectedly put the ball on the ground in front of goal, and defender Colleen Deegan's headed winner came off a corner kick with just 11 seconds remaining in regulation.

But Maryland also put itself in position to take advantage of those breaks. The Terrapins ceded the run of play to the Eagles for a good part of the game, particularly in the first half. Yet despite seven field players logging a full 90 minutes, and another totaling 87 minutes, they were the ones who had the legs left for the final 15 minutes.

There may be rosters with more talent, although that number seems to be shrinking, but there cannot be any that are better conditioned.

"Our kids are expected to come in fit, and they all did [this season] for the first time," coach Brian Pensky said. "Everybody came in, passed our fitness tests, and we have not done fitness since Aug. 3, when they passed their fitness tests. It's a credit to our team and their focus and their commitment to being good. We pride ourselves on [that] we come in fit, so we can now work on soccer and being a good soccer team."

It doesn't hurt on either count, technical or cardiovascular, to have Jasmyne Spencer. The junior forward is a game-changing presence at the top of the lineup and surely keeps teammates forced to chase her around a practice field in peak physical shape. Spencer scored the winner at NC State, her sixth goal of the season, but even in going without a point at Boston College, she was a constant threat to exploit any mediocre clearance or miscommunication.

"You can't control the speed that you're born with, but you can control your work and your passion and your urgency," Pensky said. "She does great with that. There are plenty of good players out there that have good speed, but not that many of them who can match speed with the kind of work rate, intensity and passion with which she plays."

Maryland is not without history in women's soccer. It made back-to-back NCAA tournament quarterfinal appearances in 1995 and 1996 and qualified for the tournament nine times in one 10-year stretch that began with those quarterfinal appearances. Still, one thing yet unaccomplished is five ACC wins in a single season. And at 3-1-1 with five conference matches to play, a good finishing kick could change that.

Shaq attack

Marquette senior Ashley Bares doesn't much look like a basketball center as she blends in with teammates before a game. An undersized power forward or a small forward who can mix it up inside maybe, but not a giant. It's only when she gets the ball around the 18-yard box, back to goal and a suddenly helpless defender at her mercy, that well, the scene does start to seem familiar.

[+] EnlargeBares
aggie Casey/Marquette Athletics Ashley Bares has been the difference for Marquette.

"My nickname is 'Shaq,' which -- I don't know if it's good thing," Bares admitted with a grin after scoring the winner against Connecticut on Friday. "I'll take it as a good thing; I'll embrace it."

The all-time leader in goals in Wisconsin prep history (224) at Northern Ozaukee High School, Bares is making the most of her final college season after an up-and-down four seasons in which the early promise of a team-high eight goals as a freshman gave way to a string of injuries, including compartment syndrome in her lower legs, and the resulting inconsistency through her sophomore and junior seasons.

"When she's focused, she can be really good, she can be the difference," Marquette coach Markus Roeders said. "She's just so strong, not just with her back to goal but even going forward. She's like a brick wall. It's hard to mark her, it's hard to guard her. But she's quick; she's got that little step-over move that, no matter how much you break it down or people study it, I don't know, they don't get it."

Marquette knocked off Connecticut 1-0 courtesy of Bares' second-half goal, the program's first win against the Huskies in Storrs, then concluded the weekend with a 2-1 overtime win at Providence on goals from Maegan Kelly and Julia Victor. Those efforts moved the Golden Eagles to 7-0-0 in the Big East, five points clear of second-place West Virginia in the American Division.

The best conference start in program history would be cause for celebration in its own right, but it's all the more remarkable that Marquette played six of those seven games on the road. The team's final four games, and a shot at a perfect conference regular season, all come at home against teams currently sporting a combined 9-18-1 record in Big East play.

After losing six starters from a team that allowed just 12 goals all of last season and went 7-2-2 in the Big East, Marquette seemed a likely candidate for a rebuilding season. That it is perhaps instead in a race with Minnesota for a top-16 seed in the NCAA tournament and a chance to host the first two rounds isn't solely because of Bares, to be sure. But in addition to the tangible benefit of her partnership with All-Big East forward Rachael Sloan, she seems to represent the intangible dimensions of a team that every preseason question has found an answer from returning players stepping up or freshmen stepping in.

"She's having fun, and as a coach, that's what you want them to have," Roeders said. "Yeah, it's about winning and we want to be successful, but I want the seniors to go out on a high note. … I want them to step away and miss it at the end, but I think they're only going to miss it if they have a great time doing it."

It's a philosophy worthy of Aristotle, or at least the Big Aristotle.

In The Cards

Is it possible for an undefeated No. 1 team to quietly go about its business? It would seem so with Stanford. The Cardinal beat USC and UCLA to open Pac-10 play, the program's first sweep on a Los Angeles trip since 2002. Even a 2-0 win at UCLA, the first road win against the Bruins since that 2002 season and just the second all time, was somewhat muted by Pepperdine ending UCLA's home-winning streak the prior week.

Stanford's offense isn't scoring at quite the pace it did last season with Hermann Trophy wnner Kelley O'Hara, but behind 16 goals from Christen Press and the playmaking of Teresa Noyola, it's holding up just fine. It's the other part of the equation that ought to scare the rest of the country (or perhaps scare it more). The Cardinal had to replace two starters on the back line this season, spots they filled with converted forward Courtney Verloo and converted midfielder Camille Levin. The team allowed six goals in its first five games. The last eight games? Just three goals conceded.

Around the nation

Stanford may be unbeaten, but only one team in the nation is perfect as the ides of October approach. Siena improved to 12-0-0 with wins against Loyola (Md.) and Rider in MAAC play. The Saints also have quality nonconference wins against Connecticut, Providence and Quinnipiac. … Gradually making up ground after a slow start, West Virginia improved to 5-1-1 in the Big East with overtime wins at Syracuse and St. John's. Keeper Kerri Butler set a program record for shutouts that stands at 38 after two on the weekend. Junior Morgan Mischeler scored the overtime winner in both games and has the game-winning goal in three consecutive matches. … UC Irvine's Tanya Taylor is making a habit of winning Big West Player of the Week honors. She made it two weeks in a row, and three overall this season, after scoring against Cal Poly and providing the assist on the overtime winner against UC Santa Barbara, allowing the Anteaters to improve to 12-1-2. … How stingy is Wisconsin? The Badgers have more points in the Big Ten standings (11) than they have goals on the season (9).

Graham Hays covers women's college soccer for ESPN.com. E-mail him at Graham.Hays@espn.com. Follow him on Twitter: @grahamhays.

Graham Hays covers college sports for espnW, including softball and soccer. Hays began with ESPN in 1999.