COLLEGE PARK -- Some observers consider the Maryland men's soccer team extremely young. Others view the Terrapins as very experienced.
Yet everyone seems to agree where Maryland stands on the national scene.
On the first media day in coach Sasho Cirovski's seven seasons at Maryland, the Terrapins fielded questions about the growing expectations, since two national publications selected them in their top three.
The rankings -- No. 3 by the National Soccer Coaches Association of America and No. 2 by Soccer America -- represent the best preseason standings for the Terps under Cirovski.
Yes, Maryland is young. The Terrapins have a roster that is two-thirds underclassmen, carrying 15 players who are a little over a year removed from high school.
But the team is tournament-tested. The Terrapins return seven of their 10 starters from last year's Final Four team that ended its season with a 1-0 national semifinal loss to Stanford.
And they're confident.
"Our goal is the national championship, even though I haven't played in college yet," said forward A. J. Herrera, last year's national high school Player of the Year from Albuquerque, N.M. "Because this whole group is a bunch of winners. If we don't win a national championship, then I don't think anyone will be satisfied with our season."
Herrera headlines a freshman group that has given Maryland the best recruiting class in the nation for the second straight year.
The newcomers will help fill the gap in the midfield, where Maryland lost three starters. The Terrapins remain intact on defense and appear solid up front with the return of last year's leading scorer, sophomore Taylor Twellman.
Nevertheless, the team only has two seniors and just three upperclassmen who regularly cracked last year's starting lineup.
"I don't think the youth is going to hurt us that much," said Twellman, a Soccer America preseason first-team All-American who is one of four sophomores slated to start.
"We got freshmen coming in who expected to be ranked high and want to be in a top program. I don't think they're going to struggle as much as people think they will. You'd rather be up there than trying to get up there."
Maryland won't have to wait for its first test, opening its regular season Sept. 3 at top-ranked Indiana, the defending national titlist. The Terps, who received an NCAA tourney invitation last year on the basis of their schedule, will meet seven ranked opponents.
"Young isn't always bad," said Cirovski, whose only team captain is sophomore defender Beckett Hollenbach. "There's a lot of energy flowing. We're stronger and more athletic than ever. Even though this is the youngest team I've ever had, I expect them to mature very quickly."
The National Soccer Coaches Association of America top 10:
No. School '98 rec. Pts
1. Indiana 23-2-0 480
2. Stanford 18-5-2 454
3. Maryland 16-8-0 412
4. Clemson 22-2-0 398
5. Santa Clara 15-5-2 380
6. Virginia 16-4-3 351
7. Creighton 16-4-2 337
8. St. John's 16-5-3 313
9. UCLA 17-4-0 291
10. South Carolina 16-5-0 245
Pub Date: 8/24/99