- The Washington Times - Friday, December 12, 2003

This weekend is all business for the Maryland men’s soccer team.

The second-seeded Terrapins play in the NCAA tournament semifinals for the second straight year against sixth-seeded St. John’s today in Columbus, Ohio. Yet the team’s emotions are decidedly different than when Maryland appeared in the final four last December in Dallas.

Then the unfocused Terps came out tentative in the first half of their semifinal against eventual champ UCLA and failed to generate much offense until late in a 2-1 loss.

“Everyone was just so happy to be there and just soaking it all in,” senior defender Seth Stammler said. “We were getting free gear, and I think everyone was more worried about that. This year it’s the last year for a couple of us. We’re not used to it, but we’ve already accepted the distractions we’re going to encounter.”

And there are plenty of them. Between College Cup-related events to increased media scrutiny to ticket requests and well wishes from friends and family, there’s an avalanche of obligations to fulfill.

This time around, though, almost every Terp knows what to expect. It could be an advantage this weekend, though both Indiana and St. John’s had final four experience in 2001.

“I think it’s priceless to go through it,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “Right now the guys are excited, but they know what it’ll be like. They’re more prepared to deal with the whole mental and physical preparation.”

Maryland (20-2-1) has maintained its calm all season despite becoming one of the biggest targets in the sport. The Terps have spoken of returning to the College Cup since before the season, and many acknowledged this week that the year would have been a disappointment without another final four berth.

Some of the pressure has been taken off after the Terps blitzed Old Dominion, Akron and Saint Louis to reach the semifinals, but Maryland remains far from satisfied.

Still, the Terps appreciate the difficulty of earning their way back to the final four. Maryland is only the sixth program since 1990 to make consecutive College Cup appearances and has firmly entrenched itself as one of the nation’s elite programs.

“We have met everyone’s expectations and had a great year,” said Cirovski, who has taken Maryland to three semifinal appearances in the last six years. “I think getting back to the final four will appease a lot of people to a certain degree. But this team is poised to do better.”

To do so, it will have to go through a St. John’s team making its second final four appearance in three years. Led by midfielder Simone Salinno (14 goals) and defender Chris Wingert, the Red Storm (16-5-3) is one of the nation’s disciplined teams.

Still, the Terps appear to be the favorite this weekend.

“We’re starting to realize what we have the potential to do,” Stammler said. “Now that we’re back here, I think we’re pretty dead set on finishing up business.”

Note — Senior midfielder Scott Buete, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Sunday’s quarterfinal, likely will play.

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