A reunion of three members of the Columbia United youth soccer team, which won national club championships in 1995 and 1996, has helped propel the UMBC men's team to a breakthrough season.

The Retrievers, who are 15-0-1, have outscored their opponents 56-7 and are ranked No. 12 in the nation by Soccer America this week.

Junior Matt Gormley, an All-Met at Whitman in 1996, transferred to UMBC from Wake Forest before last season and has become the team's primary leader. Junior midfielder Pat Halter, who went from Mount Hebron High to Old Dominion, transferred in last spring. Striker Giuliano Celenza chose UMBC this year after two all-American seasons at Essex Community Collge and leads the team with 19 goals. The three former Columbia United players completed a puzzle Coach Pete Caringi had been assembling with local talent for three years.

Sixteen of the team's 25 players are from Maryland high schools.

"It started two years ago, when seven freshmen started and we took it on the chin," said Caringi, enjoying the best of his nine seasons as coach. UMBC was 5-12-2 in 1997. "Matt Gormley came in with a winning background and brought a terrific presence to the club. "

With two regular season games remaining, UMBC still has work to do to qualify for the NCAA tournament. The Retrievers will host the semifinals and final of the Northeast Conference tournament, but the winner must then defeat the Patriot League champ to earn an automatic bid. An at-large bid is also a possibility.

"We are not going around thinking that the NCAA tournament is a given," Caringi said. "There are no assurances."

A Second Chance

At the first practice after the Georgetown women's Oct. 7 loss to Villanova, first-year coach Diane Drake told the Hoyas that they had been mathematically eliminated from reaching a preseason goal--playing in the Big East tournament.

Eight of the 12 teams in the conference--the top four from each division--qualify for the tournament.

"It was the lowest point of the year for all of us," Drake said. "I gave a big emotional speech about how the rest of the season was for pride and the future of the program. We tried to reset our goals to having a .500 season."

As it turned out, Drake's speech was premature, but nonetheless effective. The Hoyas won their next two conference games and the second, a 2-0 victory over West Virginia Oct. 13, secured the first postseason appearance in the team's seven-year history.

"Once we thought we were out of it, I think it took some pressure off of us," said Drake, who looked at the standings again before the West Virginia game and discovered a Big East berth was still possible. "I thought very hard about not telling them we could clinch before we played West Virginia. Eventually I just decided they could handle it."

Georgetown (8-7-2, 2-3-1) has two regular season games remaining. As the fourth seed from the Big East's Mid-Atlantic Division, the Hoyas will play No. 11 Connecticut, the top seed from the Northeast Division, Tuesday at 2 p.m. in the conference quarterfinals.

Of Note

No. 3 Duke's 3-0 win against Virginia on Sunday was its largest margin of victory over the Cavaliers since a 4-1 decision in 1962. . . .

William & Mary senior forward Missy Wycinsky (Gar-Field) scored 10 seconds into the 12th-ranked Tribe's 3-0 victory over Virginia Commonwealth on Saturday. School officials said it is the fastest goal at the start of a game in team history and it tied the third-quickest score in NCAA history.