Last year's 1-1 tie with Santa Clara in the NCAA men's soccer championship left the University of Virginia comfortably numb. Although they were denied an outright title, the Cavaliers have found solace sharing the honor after being haunted by postseason failure for almost a decade.

"Success in the postseason was important to our program, despite the bittersweet ending," Virginia Coach Bruce Arena said. "We play the toughest schedule in the country, day in and day out, and to play for the national championship, we feel good about ourselves."

Is another visit to the Final Four, to be held in Tampa this season, in the works? Likely. The Cavaliers (21-2-2 in 1989) are ranked second in both national polls and return a powerful nucleus.

The most obvious hole is in goal, left absent by U.S. World Cup team goalkeeper Tony Meola, who withdrew from school to pursue a professional career in Europe. Arena has given the job to freshman Tom Henske, who suffered a concussion in the 3-1 season-opening victory over Radford Tuesday.

The biggest preseason concern for Howard Coach Keith Tucker was whether seven players stranded in their native Trinidad and Tobago by the failed government coup attempt would arrive on campus in time for workouts. But after flights were rerouted through other Caribbean islands, the 13th-ranked Bison (14-4-2) are at full strength.

Good thing, too, since four of the seven are probable starters, including junior goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, who has a 0.45 career goals-against average and was promoted to his country's national team during the summer. His brother, Kona, transferred from Syracuse and will join returning strikers Anthony Laird (8 goals, 1 assist) and Muyiwa Omotajo (3, 4) to fill the spot left by all-American Peter Isaacs (13, 4).

"If we see a lot of Shaka, it could be a long year," Tucker said, "but if we see a lot of Kona, it could be a great year."

No. 20 George Washington (14-5-1) sneaked into the preseason poll for the first time, prompted by its 3-1 victory over George Mason in the first round of the NCAA tournament last year.

Goalie Harry Bargmann and midfielder Bruce Heon are gone, but second team all-American Mario Lone (19, 5) and steady sophomores Renzo Massa (6, 5) and Chris Majewski (3, 6) return for the Colonials, who have a new home field at 25th and M streets NW.

George Mason (11-7-3) has a veteran lineup to defend its Colonial Athletic Association title. The only inexperience is in goal with freshman Ricardo Leite from Brazil and junior Doug Sunshine vying to replace four-year starter Martin Dunphy.

Maryland (9-7-2) has been a disappointment in recent years, but nine returning starters could make Alden Shattuck's team the surprise of the Atlantic Coast Conference. Sophomore Carmine Isaaco was spectacular at times in goal last year and defenders Nigel Burdett and Simon Cotton are solid.

American (11-8-2) hasn't qualified for the NCAA tournament since it lost to UCLA in the 1985 final. Coach Pete Mehlert, in his 19th season, has many new faces but will rely on senior midfielder Jon Hall (5, 1) and senior defenders Andrew Kress, Kris Kandel and Rajindra Lalchan.

Mehlert also will handle the first-year women's program with help from the Lake Braddock High School program. Carolyn Rice will be an assistant coach, former all-Met Liz Pike is a starting forward and Christa McIntyre is one of two goalies.

Navy (6-4-5), which plays 10 of its first 11 games on the road, is led by crafty sophomore Cliff Carpenter (4, 2), senior defender Leon Wilson and sophomore Jono Halverson from Silver Spring, who emerged as the Midshipmen's sweeper last year.

All-Big East midfielder Andy Hoffmann (7, 13) graduated, but Georgetown (9-9-1) has a balanced lineup paced by defender Matt Lieb, midfielder Dom Paddack (3, 3) and forward Tom Dillow (6, 2).

In only its fifth year, the Virginia women's team (16-5) is ranked seventh and has 10 starters back, including forward Andrea Rubio (9, 9), midfielder Amanda Cromwell (11, 3) and forward Tracy DiMillio (7, 4). Three members of the national youth champion Springfield (Va.) Spirit -- Erin Riddle, Liz Verdisco and Lisa Zemke -- are first-year players.

Twelfth-ranked George Mason (11-7-1) will count on goalie Maureen Ross (1.15 goals-against average), defender Kelley Harlow and forwards Stephanie Hylan and Kathi Nidiffer. George Washington (10-11-1) has goalie Lora Mozer (1.5 gaa) and forward Lisa Zifcak (6, 1). Sue Montagne is the rookie coach at Maryland (3-12-1).