Maryland gets its first taste of Big Ten with in-conference soccer games Friday

Terp men travel to Michigan and women play host to Rutgers

September 11, 2014|Don Markus | The Baltimore Sun

COLLEGE PARK — The players on Maryland's men's and women's soccer teams can't look at their respective opponents Friday any different than they have others they have faced this season. But the Terps understand the significance that these games hold.

When the 12th-ranked men's team faces Michigan in Ann Arbor and the women's team plays host to Rutgers at Ludwig Field, it will mark Maryland's first in-conference competition of any kind as a member of the Big Ten. The school officially joined the league in July after 61 years in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

"The first time playing in a new conference and everything, we'd like to make a statement finally," said Dan Metzger, a captain on the Terps' men's soccer team. "We didn't have the best results we wanted through the first four games [1-2-1]. Now we want to show people that we're here to win and we're ready."

Said Rachelle Beanlands, the goalkeeper on the 2-2-1 women's team: "I think it's pretty cool. The Big Ten is a big stage. We're excited to be opening it up for the university. As president [Wallace D.] Loh said at our student-athlete intro evening, this is an historic year for us. We're excited to get it started."

Men's coach Sasho Cirovski said that the atmosphere at Michigan should be no different than it was when the Terps helped Louisville open its new stadium in the season opener, or when Maryland played Navy on Monday night before a record crowd of more than 2,500 in Annapolis.

Cirovski is hoping for a different result, as the Terps — who reached the national championship game last season— lost both of those games, each by a goal.

"It'll be a record crowd for Michigan. Wherever we go, we're going to get big crowds, but I think [the players] are used to that," Cirovski said. "They have a very good team and we're going to have to measure up."

Though the Big Ten is not perceived nationally as strong a soccer league as the ACC, Cirovski points to the fact that Michigan State, which visits College Park a week from Friday, reached the NCAA quarterfinals last year and that three other teams (Indiana, Penn State and Northwestern) also made the tournament.

Four teams — No. 7 Michigan State, No. 11 Indiana, No. 12 Maryland and No. 16 Penn State — are currently ranked. In comparison, the ACC has three teams in the top five (No. 3 North Carolina, No. 4 Notre Dame, No. 5 Louisville) and two others (No. 15 Virginia and No. 20 Syracuse) in the top 25.

"I think our players have come to have a deep appreciation for the Big Ten," Cirovski said. "If you look at the last few years that these kids have been around, virtually all of [the Big Ten teams] are in the tournament or close to making the tournament. Obviously, Indiana won [the national title] a couple of years ago, and these kids know that."

Among the women's teams, the Big Ten has two in the top 10 (No. 8 Penn State, No. 9 Wisconsin) as well as No. 25 Rutgers. The ACC has two in the top five (No. 2 Virginia, No. 5 Florida State) as well as No. 10 North Carolina, No. 17 Clemson and No. 19 Notre Dame.

Second-year Maryland women's coach Jon Morgan said the fact that Friday's matchup against Rutgers comes against a team that geographically is its closest rival adds to the significance of it being the first-ever game for the Terps in the Big Ten.

The Terps will celebrate their first Big Ten home game with a pre-game ceremony in which the players will walk out hand-in-hand with players from local youth teams and will carry both the state and conference flags.

"Getting off in the league on the right foot is exciting," Morgan said Tuesday, a day after a 1-1 tie at Navy. "For us, we've obviously got big aspirations and goals, so that's the first step. We want to take care of business, and get ourselves on the right foot going into the league."

don.markus@baltsun.com

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