1996 OutlookIt's an intricate process getting to that seven-letterword. It's a journey, not a destination. It's not just a matter of having allthe pieces in one place. Like a 500-piece jigsaw puzzle, all the pieces must fitperfectly in order for the final picture to come to fruition. Success is anart, and Maryland head coach Sasho Cirovski is painting an illustrious photo.
During his soccer tenure, Cirovski has been able to master his art like no oneelse. Now in his fourth season at the helm of the Maryland soccer program,Cirovski can clearly see the pieces falling into place as the Terp puzzle onceagain begins to take shape. The prospects are enormous.
Add a new twist -- five Atlantic Coast Conference teams ranked in the top 10 inthe preseason -- and the puzzle gets a little more complicated, which suitsCirovski just fine. Maryland meets two of those ranked opponents--Virginia andClemson--on the road, and welcomes Duke and North Carolina to College Park.
"We take on one of the most competitive schedules in the country. It is just thetype of challenge we want," said Cirovski. "If we can survive through the seasonand continue to improve as we make our run towards the NCAA Tournament, we willbe very good."
While the loss of multi-talented leaders Tod Herskovitz, Doug Smith and StephenCampbell to graduation creates a challenge, Cirovski returns a young andtenacious squad, who mustered something from deep down inside last year to pacethe Terps to their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance. A performancethat left Cirovski nodding knowingly and anticipating what was yet to come.
"Last year there was a disappointment in the way we ended. We expected to gofurther and losing in penalty kicks to James Madison was devastating," saidCirovski. "Sometimes, though, you learn more from a loss like that than you dofrom a win."
The 1996 season began as soon as the 1995 season ended. "The loss brought theteam closer together, and set them on a greater mission. There is a sense ofbelief from the first person to the last person on this team. Each one believeswe can do something special this year," said Cirovski.
Leading the pack
Cirovski may get just the leadership he needs to accomplish all of the goals fromthe Terrapin senior duo of Shane Dougherty and Russell Payne. The twoAll-America candidates will provide a solid foundation for what could be theTerrapins' most impressive showcase of talent in a number of years. In addition,Cirovski also welcomes back the quiet leadership and tenacious work ethic ofseniors Matt Larson and Chris Preheim.
"These are the kids that I recruited three years ago when I took over a very poorprogram. They endured a 3-14-1 season. They epitomize theblue-collar-work-ethic type of people that built the program," Cirovski saidfondly. "You have to credit them for strapping up their boots, getting theirhands dirty and building this program."
The Maryland Goalkeepers
Cirovski continues to add firepower to the Terrapin goalkeeper crew. SeniorAll-America candidate Russell Payne returns as Maryland's top goalie. Joiningthe veteran Payne is newcomer Andy Kirk. The 1995 Gatorade Player of the Year,Kirk was the starting goalkeeper for the U.S. under-20 team who qualified for theWorld Youth Championships.
"The day Andy Kirk committed to Maryland already made Russell Payne a bettergoalkeeper. Russell has not had quality competition for a position the lastthree years, and because of that, has not been pushed," said Cirovski. "Andy canplay for any program in the country and can play for us from day one."
A starter in all 21 games last season, Payne has played every minute of everygame the last two years. The Ellicott City, Md., native recorded aconference-leading seven shutouts, and was among the leaders in goals allowedaverage and saves.
"Russell Payne has developed into one of the best goalkeepers in the country. Hehas been one of the better keepers in the ACC for years but hasn't taken thatnext step in positioning himself among the best. This will be his year."
The Maryland Defense
Maryland's defense will be represented by a veteran cast of talented players. The Terps return two full-time starters, juniors Leo Cullen and R.T. Moore. Moore was one of the top players in the ACC, as well as in the nation, who helpedsolidify the Terps in the back. He is often assigned to shadow the opponent'stop offensive threat and will once again be given that chore in 1996. He isequally as powerful on the offensive side of the ball as he scored thegame-winning goal against Richmond last season.
Cullen, this year's team captain and a First-Team All-ACC selection last season,is in his second year at the sweeper position after moving from the defensivemidfield following his freshman season. He has extraordinary skills at anchoringand directing the defense. Cullen can also ignite an offensive sparkplug to theTerp squad. Adding fuel to the fire is senior Chris Preheim and junior JoeMarshburn who should turn it up a notch after gaining valuable experience lastseason. Preheim is a versatile athlete, playing at both the defender andmidfield positions, and will challenge for a starting position at either spot. Marshburn will start at the stopper or man-marking position.
Joining that foursome is sophomore Kevin Walsh and freshman Carlos Parra. Parra,who hails from West Haven, Conn., is described by Cirovski as iclearly the besthigh school defender in the country.
"It is the first year since I have been here that we return our whole startingdefense," said Cirovski. "With the addition of Carlos (Parra), it should makeour backline among the best in our league and in the country."
The Maryland Midfield
Despite the departure of Herskovitz and Smith, Maryland's midfield unit will onceagain be loaded with depth and talent. Among the returnees who will fuel thepowerful Terrapin midfield contingent is senior Matt Larson. Larson has been amajor contributor to Maryland's success the past two seasons, and is a candidatefor 1996 ACC honors as well as national honors.
Also back to provide reinforcements for the Terrapins are sophomore sensationsSteve Armas, Keith Beach and Judah Cooks. The three will combine in the midfieldto form one of the most lethal combinations in the ACC. Beach, one of the mostheralded freshman in Maryland history last season, made an immediate impact inthe Terp midfield, scoring six goals and chipping in three assists. Armas alsoenjoyed a spectacular first season in a Maryland uniform. He played in all 21games and scored six points. Cooks, a late edition to the e95 team, made apositive impact his freshman season. He started in seven of eight games, scoringthree goals and added one assist. Cooks is equally fearsome on the frontline andwill likely see playing time at both positions.
The new pieces of the puzzle come in the form of sophomore transfer Randy Merkel,and freshmen Jason Bent, Jason Cropley and Jamie Eichmann. Each bring a wealthof experience and talent to the Maryland club. Merkel comes to Maryland after ayear at Penn State. He competed on the same club team (Chicago Pegasus) asfellow Terp teammates R.T. Moore and Leo Cullen. Bent was one of the topperformers the U.S. U-20 Canadian National team which won the gold medal at theCONCAFAF games, while Cropley was listed as one of the top 25 high schoolprospects in the U.S. according to USA Today, and was a starter on the U.S. U-17Dallas Cup champion team, the California Flyers, in 1995. Eichmann was namedPlayer of the Year on the 1995 Ozaukee County (Wis.) Boy's Soccer team and sethis high school's season scoring record with 31 goals. All four players will adddepth to possibly one of the best midfield units in the ACC.
The Maryland Frontline
Again playing the lead role among Maryland's strikers is senior Shane Dougherty,the Terps' top returning player and candidate for All-America and All-ACC honors. The Kingsville, Md., native recorded five goals and had seven assists during hisjunior season. His 61 total career points ranks him ninth in the record books,while his 15 career assists ties him for fourth among Terp leaders. He will becomplimented and challenged by junior Mike McIlwain and sophomore PierreVenditti.
McIlwain is one of Maryland's top returning scorers. He returned with avengeance last season after a foot injury silenced him much of his freshman year. He scored four goals, two of which were game-winners.
"Mike has a tremendous nose for the goal. He has a very uncanny ability to be atthe right place at the right time which makes him dangerous," said Cirovski. "Heis a nice compliment to Shane (Dougherty) and Pierre (Venditti)."
Venditti is one of Maryland's most potent scorers and controls the offensive zonewith a confidence beyond his years. Evidence of his abilities were clearly madepresent in the Terps' 2-0 win over N.C. State a year ago. Venditti, named to theSoccer America Team of the Week after his gutsy performance, scored both goals inthe win.The Final Piece
It appears Cirovski is loaded up for another successful run at the nationalcrown. The puzzle will gradually be put together as the season progresses andthe Terrapins take on some of the best teams in the nation. That final piece mayvery well take the form of an NCAA Championship trophy this season.
"Everyone on this team wants to achieve the ultimate, the NCAA Championship. Wetalk about it all of the time. We don't measure everything we do by it, butclearly, if we are going to climb a mountain, we are going to climb the highestmountain," concludes Cirovski.