The lobby of McDonough Gymnasium is a shrine to Georgetown University’s athletic achievement: Boxing gloves, faded pink, from 1965. A 1941 Orange Bowl pennant. A half-deflated, yellowing football. A plaque listing every Olympian. The twine and box score from the 1984 men’s basketball championship game. A sailing compass.
Lost among the dozens of running trophies, commemorative baseballs and glass golf cups, soccer boasts two ornaments: a prune-like autographed ball commemorating the first Big East victory by the women’s program in 1996 and the conference’s division trophy earned by the men two years ago.
One flight up, in Brian Wiese’s office overlooking the tennis courts, two league prizes stand on the floor, awaiting a permanent home. And after this weekend’s College Cup, Wiese might have additional hardware to decorate the hallowed lobby shelves.
The Georgetown men’s soccer team has reached the national semifinals, two steps further than it has ever gone before, and will play Maryland, a national titan for 15 years, at 5 p.m. Friday at Regions Park in Hoover, Ala.
“This group never talked about the final four — I don’t even know they were aware it was in Alabama,” said Wiese, in his seventh season. “They broke [the season] into manageable pieces. It was all very sensible.”
Along the way, the Hoyas (19-3-2) earned the highest ranking in program history (No. 3). They claimed a share of the Big East’s Blue Division regular season title and advanced to the league tournament’s championship game.
A 3-1 result against San Diego last weekend — played in front of a home crowd so large that fans watched from behind fences after seating capacity was reached — set the program record for victories.
“We knew from preseason we could do something special,” senior midfielder Ian Christianson said. “I don’t know if we thought about being in the final four. We just saw each game, each challenge, and kept it going.”
Despite the absence of honors, Georgetown soccer dates to 1952. Although the program lacked the scholarship resources endowed to its Big East rivals, the Hoyas did manage to hold its own in the conference and twice qualify for the NCAA tournament. Keith Tabatznik, Wiese’s predecessor who coached for 22 seasons, had one full scholarship to offer in 1994, when Georgetown made its NCAA tournament debut, and two when the team returned three years later.
It wasn’t until about 2005, when the Big East mandated fully funded soccer teams, that Georgetown turned the corner. It now offers maximum soccer scholarships (9.9).
With scholarships came a higher caliber of recruits. The senior class is led by Christianson, an Iowa native who drew national interest. “A program-changer,” Wiese said.
Sophomore goalkeeper Tomas Gomez is in the U.S. under-20 national team’s player pool. Brandon Allen’s 15 goals are the most in the country by a freshman.
Wiese has also continued mining for overlooked prospects. Forward Steve Neumann (28 goals, 28 assists in three years) might have ended up at the lower Division I level had Georgetown not taken a chance on him. Wiese had pegged senior Andy Riemer, a three-year starter, to play in Division III before the midfielder blossomed in his last year at Georgetown Prep.
Wiese, 39, arrived in 2006, a first-time head coach who had assisted at Stanford and Notre Dame for 10 years. Alumni had clamored for a candidate with school ties, most notably Pennsylvania Coach Rudy Fuller, a Georgetown graduate and former assistant coach. “I was not a popular hire,” Wiese laughed.
Wiese’s first two years, however, were “slower than I wanted it to be,” he said of a combined 13-24-1 record. The Hoyas posted winning marks in 2008 and ’09 but failed to qualify for the NCAA tournament.
The next year, though, they won a share of the division title and defeated UNC Greensboro in the national tournament before falling to North Carolina on penalty kicks – “a tipping point because it gave us a taste of what it’s like to play a top national team and be in the pressure of a big NCAA game,” Christianson said.
The Hoyas fell short of the tournament last year, but with most of the roster intact and a prized recruiting class, they began this season with 10 victories, one tie and a modest goal: advance to the Big East semifinals.
“We felt if we could achieve it, everything else would fall into place,” senior defender Tommy Muller said. “That was the explicit goal, but it had further implications because things could come together for the long term.”
The only rut came midseason with consecutive losses to nationally ranked Connecticut and Notre Dame. In the Big East final, Georgetown was 32 seconds from the title when it yielded the Fighting Irish’s tying goal, then fell in overtime.
Nonetheless, the Hoyas received the No. 3 seed in the 48-team NCAA tournament – behind Notre Dame and Maryland, which has won two national titles since 2005.
“It was a deserved seed, but you always battle history. That was in the air,” Wiese said. “The players handled it brilliantly. They were never overconfident, but at the same time, they had a lot of belief.”
The Hoyas responded with a 1-0 victory over Charlotte, the 2011 national runner-up, then came from behind late against Syracuse and ultimately prevailed on penalty kicks. Last weekend, a 1-0 deficit early in the second half lasted 65 seconds, and freshman Melvin Snoh’s first goal snapped the deadlock in the 73rd minute.
Before the quarterfinal, Wiese received an e-mail from a former Georgetown player, saying in so many words, “The last 30 years, every single Georgetown soccer team has tried to make the final four, and you guys actually have a chance to do it, so get it done.”
Said Wiese: “Do I tell the guys every generation of Georgetown soccer player is saying this is the chance every other team wanted? Do you put that kind of pressure on them?
“I didn’t mention it. I just let them play like they have all season.”