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George Mason hires Elmar Bolowich as men’s soccer coach

Elmar Bolowich won 395 matches in 30 seasons at North Carolina and Creighton. (Courtesy George Mason athletics) (PROPERTY OF JOE WILLMAN)

George Mason made a big splash Monday by filling its men’s soccer coaching vacancy with former North Carolina and Creighton boss Elmar Bolowich.

Bolowich, 65, has a 395-184-57 record in 30 seasons, with 21 NCAA tournament appearances, six trips to the College Cup (the national semifinals) and a national championship (2001 at UNC).

He had left Creighton last winter to become technical director of a youth academy in Jacksonville, but he soon yearned to return to college coaching.

“Maybe at the tail end of the career you go back into youth soccer, but to run an entire club is very different compared to just coaching one team,” said Bolowich, who signed a four-year contract. “It didn’t quite materialize the way I envisioned it. I felt like my skills are better suited in college soccer, where I have had my success. I missed the connection with the coaches, the level of competitiveness, the university life in general, because I was connected with the communities. I envision doing the same thing in Fairfax.”

The native of Germany replaces Greg Andrulis, a former MLS coach who resigned in November after several disappointing seasons late in his 15-year tenure.

In Mason’s search, Bolowich was the only finalist with Division I head-coaching experience. The others were assistants: Rich Costanzo (Pittsburgh), Mike Marchiano (Loyola), Scott Buete (Maryland) and Eduardo de Souza (George Mason).

When Bolowich submitted his application, Patriots Athletic Director Brad Edwards said: “I thought, ‘Did I read that right?’ I knew of him going way back, and everything I knew was really positive.”

Bolowich arrives in a region featuring the past two NCAA champions (Georgetown and Maryland), a seven-time champion (Virginia) and several other successful programs. American, Howard, Navy, Virginia Tech and Maryland Baltimore County have reached the national semifinals at least once.

Mason, however, has fallen well behind other area schools, and in the absence of a football team galvanizing the campus in the fall, Edwards has prioritized growing the soccer programs. Last season, the men’s team was 4-12-2 with a senior-heavy squad. The Patriots have not qualified for the NCAA tournament since 2013.

“It should be a nationally competitive program that not only gets into NCAA tournament but can get in and win,” Edwards said. “We have had moments of that certainly throughout our history. I don’t know if the balance of power has moved, but it’s certainly extraordinarily strong in this region. It’s a sport in which we have a lot of expectations and we can be nationally relevant.”

The area’s rich youth scene will help the rebuilding process, Bolowich said, but he also plans to compete for highly rated players from around the country. He said he will also raise the quality of the schedule.

“I am known to play hard games, a heavy schedule, to test my players,” he said, conceding such upgrades will probably have to wait until 2021 because most teams are locked into their 2020 plans.

Bolowich has strong bonds in the area, having faced Georgetown’s Brian Wiese in the Big East while at Creighton and Maryland’s Sasho Cirovski and Virginia’s George Gelnovatch in the ACC while at North Carolina. He is also close to coaches at Old Dominion, Virginia Commonwealth and others in the Mid-Atlantic region.

Bolowich was 280-144-40 in 22 seasons at UNC, qualifying for the NCAA tournament 15 times and the national semifinals four times. At Creighton, his record was 115-40-17 with six NCAA berths in eight seasons.

In his last three years in Chapel Hill and his first two in Omaha, he led his team to the national semifinals each season.

Bolowich said he did not apply for any other openings nationally.

“I approached Mason. No others,” he said. “I felt it would be a great fit.”