During a period of intense scrutiny and turmoil at the University of Maryland, Terps fans received a welcome opportunity to rejoice when the men's soccer team knocked off Akron for the national championship Dec. 9.
"I just couldn't be more proud of the journey that we had this year with this team, and just really happy for the entire Maryland community that we could put a smile on people's faces in what's been a difficult fall for the university," Maryland head men's soccer coach Sasho Cirovski said on
Glenn Clark Radio
The university and its athletic department have captured the public spotlight for the past six months following the death of 19-year-old football player Jordan McNair, and the ensuing investigations and personnel decisions generated even more negative publicity for the institution. Cirovski has been at Maryland for 26 years, during which time he's built relationships with the coaches across all sports, and he said they were all affected by the tumultuous spring and fall.
"I know this is a great place, I know we care about student-athletes here and I know we are a great global institution," Cirovski said. "We got portrayed in a bad light; obviously, some of it was right. There were mistakes made here, but I was just happy that people that love this place could put a smile on their face and could rejoice in something great like us winning the national championship. To me it meant a lot to have people celebrate a little bit after what's been six months of trying times."
The Terps got off to a difficult start to the season, opening the season 0-2-2 and failing to earn their first win until mid-September. After falling to then-No. 4 Indiana, 2-1, Oct. 12, Cirovski's squad dropped to 4-5-3. The Terps battled the Hoosiers only to fall on a last-second goal, but the loss ended up being a turning point for the season.
"After that game we sat on their field and really just said, 'Enough is enough,'" Cirovski said. "We can't play this well and not get rewarded."
Maryland took on No. 7 Denver four days later, beating the Pioneers, 1-0, the first of a three-game win streak. The Terps headed into the NCAA Tournament having won four of their last six games, including a victory against No. 17 Michigan State in the Big Ten Tournament. In five NCAA tournament games, Maryland outscored its opponents 8-0 en route to the championship.
The Terps beat Akron, 1-0, in the championship game.
"Through it all, we sensed that the team was really coming together," Cirovski said. "The locker room was good, the leadership was good, it was just a matter of, 'Can we tweak some things, can we get the pieces fitting together in the right places?' About midway through the year things began to come along and I started to sense we've got something special here."
The title was Ciovski's third during his time at the university. He also won titles in 2005 and 2008. The program reached the NCAA semifinals in 2012 and the finals in 2013, but the Terps had only made it out of the second round of the tournament once in the past four seasons.
Given the state of the university throughout the year, Cirovski said this championship had added significance for the team and its fans.
"I love the University of Maryland, I love our program, I love the fact that we are a significant part of this institution," Cirovski said. "It's just great that all of Terp nation gets to go into the holidays feeling good about something."
For more from Cirovski, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics