- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 12, 2002

It has been only four years since the Maryland men's soccer team last reached the NCAA semifinals, but little is the same about the program.

The players are all new. The assistants have moved on. Only coach Sasho Cirovski remains.

The architect of Maryland's decade-long climb to the top of college soccer, Cirovski also is different as his second-seeded Terrapins (20-4) prepare for tomorrow's 5 p.m. national semifinal against third-seeded UCLA at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in Dallas.

The 10th-year coach, known earlier in his career as much for his spectacular sideline tantrums as his relentless teams, has mellowed after two injury-plagued seasons and is now relishing his second trip to the final four.

"I think the last few years were great for me," Cirovski said. "They made me re-understand the cruelty of this game. There's too many things outside of your control that affect outcomes. Outcomes are not the end-all of how you measure success. I think I've always known that, but I haven't accepted that."

Cirovski instantly succeeded in coaching. He took Hartford to two NCAA tournaments in as many years before moving to Maryland in 1993. He quickly built up the program, reaching the round of 16 four times before the Terps stormed into the final four in 1998.

The following year, Maryland exited the postseason after one round. After stars Dan Califf and Taylor Twellman turned pro, matters got worse in 2000. The season was ruined by seven season-ending injuries in September and the Terps missed the tournament. Last year injuries to striker Abe Thompson and midfielder Domenic Mediate left the Terps offensively impotent, and Maryland bowed out of the NCAAs in the second round.

The struggles forced Cirovski to re-examine his professional approach as well as his championship-or-bust mentality.

"I've learned to be patient," he said. "When I first got here, I wanted to win a championship so bad, right away. I've come to understand gratification of building a program doesn't just come in winning a championship."

Added Shannon Higgins-Cirovski, his wife and the women's soccer coach at Maryland: "He's mellowed a lot through all the years we've been married. I think these last couple years were tough on him, but he came to realize that you have to realize the talent you have and getting the most out of the kids. Sometimes there are excuses, and he wasn't quite [ready to accept that]."

Cirovski's players say they've seen changes as well, though he remains a demanding coach.

"We all heard stories about how he used to be a lot more harsh than he is now and every now and then we see his fire and his intensity, but for the most part he's learned to be a little more calm and a little more patient," Thompson said. "He appreciates what is happening to us a little bit more after the couple tough years we had."

Cirovski also changed his recruiting tendencies, staying away from players likely to leave for Major League Soccer after a brief college stay and instead finding unheralded potential stars like Mediate, midfielder Ian Rodway, defender Seth Stammler and forward Jason Garey.

Though calmer than in the past, Cirovski remains a staunch advocate of the college game. Maryland continues to play an aggressive brand of soccer that appeals to fans rather than the boring pack-the-back style Cirovski despises. And he dreams of having a state of the art facility like Virginia's 8,000-seat Klockner Stadium to house his elite program.

Cirovski also boldly vowed just after the Terps lost to Loyola in last year's NCAA tournament that by 2003 the program would "bring a national championship trophy back to College Park and if we don't, they can fire me." Moments later, an associate athletic director asked Cirovski if he wanted to back down from the comments. Cirovski would have none of it.

Cirovski is sure it is only a matter of time before Maryland wins its first championship since 1968. He points to the likes of Bruce Arena, who captured his first NCAA crown in his 12th year at Virginia, and Jerry Yeagley, the longtime coach at Indiana who needed 10 seasons before he won the first of his five titles.

Even if the Terps don't win a championship this weekend, Cirovski still feels his tenure at Maryland has fulfilled him.

"These last 10 years I've been at Maryland are the greatest 10 years of my life," Cirovski said. "I got married, had three kids. I've been able to take my dream job and do some really good things with it, build something that's widely respected and something I can call my own. When I first got in coaching, this is exactly what I envisioned. But I've also learned not to put a time line on goals."

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