College Park, Md. – Maryland seniors John Stertzer, London Woodberry and Taylor Kemp don’t want to miss a trip to the College Cup.
All three standouts enter their final season without having made an appearance in college soccer’s coveted showcase, and have that set firmly in their sights as the season is set to begin.
“It’s definitely a huge hole,” Stertzer said. “Coming to Maryland, the history of the program is so great, everyone wants to win. We’ve been here, been so close every year, I feel like it makes us hungrier. We have a huge chip on our shoulders, so I think this year we’re going to come out and show how much we want it.”
Since a 2008 national title, the Terrapins have come close to a College Cup berth in three straight years. In 2009, Virginia won 3-0 in the quarterfinals to send their ACC rivals home, a year later the Terps lost in overtime to an upstart Michigan squad 3-2, and then last season their defense was picked apart in a 4-2 loss against Louisville at home in the tournament’s third round.
Possessing an experienced group, heading into his 20th season in charge in College Park, head coach Sasho Cirovski has high hopes and expectations for a team led by this trio of seniors.
“They’ve had a lot of playing time and we’re poised to be a real contender this year,” Cirovski said. “We’re contenders every year, but I’ve said before if we don’t bring home one championship this year, whether it’s an ACC or national championship, this will be a failure.”
Cirovski in particular thinks that Woodberry and Kemp are crucial, given the defensive struggles the team had last season, finishing 53rd overall in goals against average.
“Both of them have focused on making sure their job first is to keep the ball out of the net, both through their leadership, organization and their own ability to make the ones around them better,” he said. “That’s an important goal of ours this year, we want to become a much better team defensively. So I think they’re very important in that capacity.”
But title hopes don’t hinge on just those three guys, as there is plenty of talent around them, as eight starters have returned from last season’s team. That includes juniors Patrick Mullins, Sunny Jane, Widner Saint Cyr and Jordan Cyrus, the latter two entering redshirt seasons, adding even more experience.
That sort of continuity is going to be a huge asset as the abbreviated college soccer season progresses.
“The relationships that this team already has, especially within the starters, is awesome,” Kemp said. “I think that plays a huge part in trusting your teammates and the communication between each other.”
A strong incoming class is also likely to provide a shot in the arm for the Terps. Defender Mikey Ambrose, captain of the U18 FC Dallas team that won the Development Academy title, will compete for time at right back, while Cirovski is convinced he’s found a gem in forward Schillo Tshuma.
“They’re a talented group, and bring a lot of energy and a lot of personality and they’ve integrated themselves really well into our system,” Kemp said. “We have some freshmen that are going to be competing for a lot of time, which is always good because they’re going to be pushing the older guys.”
There still are issues to iron out, however. A talented team makes it difficult to pick a starting lineup. The team has also yet to name a starter in goal, with sophomores Keith Cardona and Jordan Tatum expected to split time, and freshman Cody Niedermeier tossing his name into the hat despite missing a strong portion of the preseason with a hand injury.
Regardless, the hunger and fuel is going to be there for the entire team, as they look to send off Stertzer, Woodberry and Kemp in proper fashion, who will fuel this team’s run.
“I think that they have a sincere wish to leave here with a national championship,” Cirovski said of his senior trio. “That’s one of the reasons they came here, and that’s one of their major goals this year is to win a national championship.”