Maryland women's soccer steps out of shadow of men's team

By Steven Goff
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, October 7, 2010; 12:23 AM

The University of Maryland men's soccer team will always cast a shadow over the women's program, but these days, the silhouette is not as long.

While the men's squad has maintained elite status - two recent NCAA titles, five semifinal appearances in eight years, a production line of future pros and record crowds - the women have begun to raise their profile. Building off last year's NCAA tournament round-of-16 appearance, the Terrapins won their first eight matches and had a 10-game unbeaten streak before losing at Virginia Tech, 1-0, last weekend.

Ranked eighth in the coaches' poll, Maryland (9-1-1, 1-1-1 ACC) will visit No. 4 Boston College (9-1-1, 2-1) on Thursday night.

"We are not trying to be Maryland men's soccer; we are trying to be Maryland women's soccer," Coach Brian Pensky said. "We are going to be measured against them, but that is okay. It's up to us. If we want to be recognized, if we want to get attention and if we want people to care about us, we have to win."

Pensky, 41, is intimately familiar with the men's operation, and not just because his office at Comcast Center is down the hall from counterpart Sasho Cirovski's. Pensky was Cirovski's chief assistant for three years before succeeding Cirovski's wife, Shannon, who stepped aside after the 2004 season to care for the couple's three children.

While Maryland was conducting an unsuccessful nationwide search for a replacement, Cirovski urged the athletic department to hire Pensky, who, before arriving in College Park, coached the Bullis School boys' team and assisted the women's programs at George Washington and Loyola (Md.).

"I went up there [to the athletic department offices] and said, 'Look, sometimes you have the best person in your own back yard,' " said Cirovski, in his 18th year at Maryland.

Before the coaching change, the Terrapins had reached the NCAA tournament all but one year between 1995 and 2004 and advanced to the quarterfinals twice. In Pensky's first four seasons, however, Maryland won just 23 times and fell back into the lower tier of the ACC, the country's premier women's league.

Fortunes began to turn last year. Promising recruits began to mature and Pensky fully implemented an attack-oriented style. Maryland began the 2009 season with eight straight victories and finished with a 14-6-2 record that included two tournament wins before a 1-0 loss to eventual champion North Carolina.

This year, the Terrapins breezed through the nonconference schedule by averaging 3.5 goals, then drew with Duke and took a 3-2 victory from No. 9 Virginia.

"We have been building. It has taken some time, but we are getting better," said junior goalkeeper Yewande Balogun (Eleanor Roosevelt). "I think we are here to stay."

Another critical element was Pensky's adaptation to coaching women instead of men. Although he had coached female athletes in the past, he struggled to find the right approach and tone with the Maryland women's team.

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