Taylor Kemp was willing to entertain the possibility of leaving Maryland early, like so many Terrapin soccer stars have done in the past decade and a half.
An early exit in the NCAA tournament went a long way in making up his mind.
“It wasn’t really like a decision I had to make,” the left back said. “It was something the circumstances were going to make for me. It depended on how deep we went in the tournament and how happy I was with our season and myself personally. … When the season came to an end, it wasn’t on terms I was happy with. It made it pretty easy for me that I knew I wanted to stay.”
Kemp is part of just a three-man senior class, but he will help preside over one of the more experienced Maryland sides in recent memory. Eight starters return from last season’s 14-4-3 bunch, as does goalkeeper Keith Cardona, who got the nod in the Terps’ two NCAA tournament games.
That should all help. So should some bitter memories. Last year’s ouster was preceded by two quarterfinal exits. Maryland’s last College Cup appearance was its 2008 national title, which is hardly an eternity.
For a program that’s reached the national semifinals six times between 1998 and 2008, though, it’s a noticeable drought.
“We haven’t made a final four, which is just below the standard of what we’ve wanted to do,” defender London Woodberry said. “I think being seniors, and me, John [Stertzer] and Taylor have been such good friends for four years, going out on top this year would be the best gift for all three of us.”
There is little doubt what standard Maryland intends to hold itself to as its starts its season Sunday at Ludwig Field against Louisville, which knocked the Terps out of last year’s postseason in the round of 16. It’s a stage Maryland has reached 10 consecutive years.
In short, expectations go well beyond that annual accomplishment.
“We’re contenders every year, but I’ve said before if we don’t bring at least one championship home this year, whether it’s an ACC or a national championship, this will be a failure,” coach Sasho Cirovski said.
Cirovski is in his 20th season at Maryland, and his past 14 senior classes have reached at least one final four during their time in College Park. That streak is in jeopardy, as the Terps’ handful of veterans are acutely aware.
“It’s definitely a huge hole,” Stertzer said. “Coming to Maryland, the history of the program is so great and everyone wants to win. But we’ve been so close every year, and I feel like it makes us all hungry.”
With the Terps spared the headaches of replacing early departures, Cirovski believes he has one of the deepest teams in his tenure.
There are still uncertainties. Cardona and sophomore Jordan Tatum figure to rotate at keeper in the season’s early stages, with freshman Cody Niedermeier potentially factoring in. A three-way competition for a center back slot next to Woodberry and two-man battle at right back remain unresolved, though Cirovski hopes to expand his overall rotation.
That’s part of the trickle down from last year’s 1-3-2 finish after rising to No. 2 in the country in October. A stronger final month is a prerequisite for Maryland’s seniors to rectify their career-long absence from the College Cup.
“I think this team has enough hurt from the last couple of years to really stay tuned in to the end and finish strong,” Cirovski said. “If we can catch some luck in terms of the injury situation, I think this team can play with anybody and can be the last team standing.”