“It’s a great place for the college game,” said Sasho Cirovski, in his 20th season coaching the Terrapins. “History runs deep here.”
The area has done it again this fall, but for the first time since Cirovski was a tot in what is now Macedonia, two local teams have advanced to the national semifinals at the same time.
Maryland and Georgetown, geographically close but traditionally far apart in the sport, have traveled some 700 miles to Hoover, Ala., to meet at 5 p.m. Friday in the College Cup – soccer’s equivalent to basketball’s Final Four.
The winner will face seven-time champion Indiana or Creighton on Sunday afternoon, guaranteeing a local representative in the final for the 19th time since the inaugural tournament in 1959.
A Washington area team has advanced to the national semifinals in 20 of the last 30 seasons and 33 of 53 times overall. However, locals have never collided this deep in the tournament. The last time two advanced to the semifinals in the same year was 1963: Maryland lost to Saint Louis and Navy ousted Army before falling to the Billikens in the final.
The NCAA’s geographic considerations often prevent nearby programs from taking separate roads to the College Cup. Three years ago, for instance, Virginia defeated Maryland in the quarterfinals en route to a sixth national title. But because of their elite standing throughout this season, No. 2 Maryland (20-1-2) and No. 3 Georgetown (19-3-2) received high seeds in the 48-team tournament and couldn’t cross paths until the semis.
The Terrapins, ACC champions, were the nation’s top-ranked team for much of the year and were expected to secure a seventh College Cup berth in 15 years. The Hoyas were Big East runners-up, but appearing in the NCAA tournament for just the fourth time and having never gone beyond the round of 16, they were a surprise package.
“The dichotomy of being the top seed in your side of the bracket and never [advancing very far in the past] was interesting,” Hoyas Coach Brian Wiese said. “This was new for our players, but they didn’t do anything differently. They handled it brilliantly.”
Georgetown defied history in the tournament and will have to do it again against Maryland: The Terrapins have won all 28 meetings. There hasn’t even been a draw. The scoring margin: 129-20.
All but seven of those matches, however, came between 1952 and 1986. Since then, aside from a 6-0 rout in 2005, Maryland has won by just one or two goals, including a 4-3 overtime game in the 1994 NCAA tournament and 2-1 results in the 2007 and ’09 regular seasons.
“You could see when Brian came in [in 2006], the program was taking natural steps,” Cirovski said. “They have a lot of players who are going to play on the next level. They are establishing themselves as a top 20 team every year. That is a talented, mature, skillful group.”
The NCAA tournament is now the only setting in which the two programs can play each other. They were innocent bystanders in Maryland Athletic Director Kevin Anderson’s declaration in February that, until Georgetown agrees to play the Terrapins in men’s basketball, none of his teams are permitted to schedule games against the Hoyas.
“Have you gotten confirmation they are allowed to play?” Wiese said, tongue in cheek. “We are still waiting to see if this game is going to happen.”
The soccer coaches share no animosity and would like to resume regular meetings. Several players from each side have competed with, and against, one another on youth levels.
Last Saturday, after the Hoyas defeated San Diego, Wiese drove to College Park to scout Maryland’s quarterfinal against Louisville. Meantime, some of his players watched the match online.
“We aspired to be like them, knowing we were close to that level, especially this year when we have the talent and pieces to be that good,” said Georgetown senior midfielder Ian Christianson, who played on a regional select squad with Maryland junior midfielder Sunny Jane several years ago.
Said Wiese: “We know them well enough that we won’t be sitting there saying, ‘Boy, this is going to be impossible.’ But we respect them enough to know there is real quality and they are good. They are a fun team. It’s going to be a fun game. It’s great for the area.”
Note: Maryland junior forward Patrick Mullins has been named one of three finalists for the Hermann Award, given to the nation’s top player. The ACC offensive player of the year, Mullins has 16 goals and eight assists to lead the Terrapins in both categories.
Virginia senior forward Caroline Miller (Walter Johnson High) and Penn State senior midfielder Christine Nairn (Spalding) are finalists for the women’s Hermann Award.