Terps soccer wakes up to a long-sought dream Veteran squads set sights on NCAA championships

August 31, 1996|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,CONTRIBUTING WRITER

COLLEGE PARK -- Imagine a winning season. Think of becoming an Atlantic Coast Conference title contender. Envision capturing the national championship.

That's the dream Maryland has been trying to sell to its soccer players for years. But now, it's turning into a reality.

The Terps men's and women's Cirovski soccer teams no longer reside in the basement of the league and no longer pray for an NCAA tournament bid. Welcome to Maryland, college soccer's newest emerging powerhouse.

"The word is out," said Sasho Cirovski, who begins his fourth season as the men's coach. "You can come to Maryland and become a better soccer player, student and person. It's a great situation to be in."

After years of being hammered by ACC opponents and setting goals of winning records, the Maryland men's and women's teams have cracked the national scene.

The men and women both qualified for the NCAA tournament last season for the first time in tandem, combining for the fifth most wins among the nation's soccer programs. The men lost in a shootout in the round of 16 and the women came within a goal of making the Final Four.

And with both squads virtually intact from last year, each has its long-term sights set on winning NCAA titles.

In Soccer America's preseason poll, the men were ranked fourth and the women 10th. Only Virginia, Duke and Portland also had men's and women's teams ranked in the top 10.

"Our goal is to win the national championship," said first-year women's coach Alan Kirkup, who guided Southern Methodist to the Final Four last year. "They went to the final eight last year and are used to this success. My job here is to reach the next level."

Kirkup takes over at Maryland for April Heinrichs, who built the foundation of the team before leaving to coach Virginia. While Kirkup inherits a team on the rise, Cirovski revived a long stagnant program.

But from his first to second season with the Terps, Cirovski increased Maryland's victories from three to 14, marking the biggest turnaround in the 42-year history of the ACC. Last season, the Terps won four league games for the first time in 25 years and received their second straight NCAA tournament berth.

Add this season's recruiting class -- which includes goalkeeper Andy Kirk, Gatorade's Player of the Year -- to the nine returning starters, and Maryland becomes one of the deepest and most talented teams in the country. Junior defender Leo Cullen, the Terps captain, is projected to be a first-team All-American, which hasn't happened to a Maryland player in a decade.

"This team is hungry and just playing to survive and prove themselves among the elite is not satisfactory anymore," Cirovski said. "This team has the potential to be the best we've had. This is the first time where we've had competition at every spot. Last year, you could have a bad game and start the next one. But that's not the case this year."

The women return their three top goal scorers, five of their eight point producers and sophomore goalkeeper Kassie Knecht from their breakthrough 1995 season. The Terps set a program record for wins (18), advanced to the ACC tournament final for the first time and made it to the national quarterfinals in their first NCAA tournament.

The consensus on the Terps is that the coaching change won't be a major adjustment. Kirkup, who never had a losing record in 10 years of coaching, ranks sixth among women's soccer coaches in career victories (148) and 10th in winning percentage (.728).

"The transition is over and it's not even the end of the preseason," sophomore forward Emmy Harbo said. "We're not going to be happy just making it to the final eight. We're going all the way."

But for some Terps, the possibility of winning a national soccer championship still seems like a dream come true.

Ask Shane Dougherty, the men's top returning scorer and Cirovski's first major recruit at Maryland four years ago.

"It was always the way I had hoped it would all work out," Dougherty said. "But I can't say that I didn't have a few doubts that it wouldn't happen in my career here."

Schedules

Men

SEPTEMBER

1 -- Seton Hall, 2 p.m.; 6 -- Diadora Classic Tournament at Florida International, TBA; 8 -- Diadora Classic Tournament at Florida International, TBA; 15 -- at Virginia, 2 p.m.; 22 -- at N.C. State, 2 p.m.; 25 -- Mt. St. Mary's, 7 p.m.; 29 -- Duke, 2 p.m.

OCTOBER

6 -- at Wake Forest, 3 p.m.; 9 -- at James Madison, 4 p.m.; 12 -- at Old Dominion, 7: 30 p.m.; 16 -- at Richmond, 7: 30 p.m.; 20 -- Robert Morris, 2 p.m; 23 -- American, 2 p.m.; 27 -- Hartwick, 2 p.m.; 30 -- Loyola, 7 p.m.

NOVEMBER

2 -- at Clemson, 7 p.m.; 9 -- North Carolina, 2 p.m.; 14-16 -- ACC Tournament at Virginia, TBA

Women

SEPTEMBER

1 -- at Univ. of Hawaii, 5 p.m.; 4 -- George Washington Univ., 7 p.m.; 7 -- at University of Hartford, 3: 30 p.m.; 8 -- University of New Hampshire, 1 p.m.; 13 -- at James Madison, 4 p.m.; 15 -- Davidson College, Noon; 22 -- University of Texas, 1 p.m.; 24 -- George Mason, 7 p.m.; 27 -- Brown Univ., 7 p.m.; 29 -- at Wake Forest Univ., 2 p.m.

OCTOBER

1 -- UMBC, 7 p.m.; 4 -- Colorado College, 2 p.m.; 6 -- Penn State, 11 a.m.; 11 -- Univ. of Virginia, 7 p.m.; 13 -- Florida State Univ., 2 p.m.; 19 -- N.C. State, 2 p.m.; 22 -- Navy, 7 p.m.; 25 -- Duke, 7 p.m.; 30 -- at Univ. of North Carolina, 3 p.m.

NOVEMBER

1 -- at Clemson, 7 p.m.; 3 -- at Univ. of Georgia, 1 p.m.; 7-10 -- ACC Tournament at Wake Forest, Final at Winston-Salem, N.C., TBA

Pub Date: 8/31/96

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