Kimmy Francis raised the stature of the Maryland women's soccer program the moment she signed a national letter of intent nearly two years ago. The crafty two-time high school all-American from outside Philadelphia was the sort of coveted player the Terrapins needed to challenge the NCAA's entrenched elite, but the payoff was delayed when Francis missed her freshman year with an injured knee.
After an hour of frustration in last night's NCAA tournament opener against visiting American, Francis raised the Terrapins' profile yet again. Her composed 60th-minute finish lifted Maryland to a 1-0 victory and their first second-round appearance in three years. Sunday's opponent will be the same as it was in 1999 -- Penn State. The 13th-ranked Nittany Lions (16-3-1) defeated Princeton, 2-0, in the opener of yesterday's doubleheader before 1,246 fans at Ludwig Field.
"We knew when we go to Kimmy she was going to help make everyone on our team a better player. That's what a great player does." Maryland Coach Shannon Higgins-Cirovski said. "We see that finishing all the time in practice, and it's just coming alive now that we're in the postseason."
Francis tallied her third goal of the season against Florida State in last week's ACC quarterfinal and was among a host of Terrapins last night threatening the resilient Eagles (10-9-2), who were making their first NCAA appearance. Maryland (13-7-1) outshot the visitors, 25-3, for the game but was able to score only after American's defensive linchpin, sophomore Amy Muller, left the match with an injured ankle.
Seconds after Muller's departure, Maryland junior midfielder Jen Biscoe slid a pass through the left side of the Eagles' defense. Facing American sophomore goalkeeper Jen Liese, a former high school teammate, Francis took a touch and slipped the ball through. The 19th-ranked Terrapins coasted to the victory.
"It was always in my head that I could play against her and it was a rivalry," Francis said of her showdown with Liese. "It really doesn't matter who scored it, but it feels good. It was frustrating because we took a ton of shots. We knew that one was going to come."
The game was reminiscent of last year's first-round loss at Dayton, where the Terrapins dominated but did not score. That Maryland team struggled offensively all year however, tallying just 24 goals in 19 games.
This year the skillful Terrapins have scored 46 times, leaving them more equipped to face a Penn State team spearheaded by senior forward Christie Welsh, last season' national player of the year.
Meantime, the Eagles took a significant step of their own. Faced with a difficult first-round draw, the Patriot League champions played well despite the odds and will graduate just two players of significant consequence.
"Maryland is a great program. It's the type of program we aspire to be," Coach Michael Brady said. "To come into their home and give them a scare like that is a great achievement."
* GW MEN 4, U-MASS. 3: Arnar Johannsson's header with one second remaining in overtime stunned defending champion and top-seeded U-Mass., in the Atlantic 10 championship semifinals in Richmond. The fourth-seeded Colonials (12-8) will face No. 2 Duquesne, a 2-1 winner in double overtime over No. 3 Richmond, in the conference finals on Sunday. Johannsson's game-winner in the first extra session gave him a hat trick. Massachusetts forward Jeff Daren forced overtime, scoring his third goal of the game with 28 seconds left in regulation.
* MARYLAND MEN 4, CLEMSON 3: Sophomore midfielder Ian Rodway (Wilde Lake) took a pass from forward Domenic Mediate and scored in overtime to lead the second-seeded Terps (15-4) to victory over the sixth-seeded Tigers in an ACC tournament semifinal. The Terps advance to the conference championship on Sunday for the first time since 1997, and will face fourth-seeded Virginia in Cary, N.C.
* VIRGINIA MEN 1, WAKE FOREST 0: In an ACC semifinal, an own goal by the No. 1 Demon Deacons sent the Cavaliers (15-5) to victory.
* BOSTON COLLEGE 2, GEORGETOWN MEN 0: Top-seeded BC notched second-half scores to beat the fifth-seeded Hoyas in the Big East semifinals in Piscataway, N.J. Georgetown finished the season 8-9-1.
* LEHIGH 0, AU MEN 0: The Eagles lost in the Patriot League tournament semifinals, falling on penalty kicks, 4-2, after the teams played a scoreless tie through regulation and 20 minutes of overtime in Worcester, Mass.
* VIRGINIA WOMEN 3, DAYTON 2: The Cavaliers scored three unanswered goals in 10 minutes to down Dayton in the first-round NCAA tournament game in Morgantown, W. Va.