By Steve Jones
Less than a decade ago, the school was known as Villa Julie College. The athletic program had yet to make an impact at the NCAA Division III level, and the facilities were less than impressive.
But during the last 10 years, the Baltimore County college has undergone a remarkable transformation. In early September, the renamed Stevenson University will take another significant step forward with the opening of Mustang Stadium.
The new facility will serve as the home for six Stevenson teams: football, men's and women's soccer, field hockey, and men's and women's lacrosse. The official ribbon-cutting for the 3,500-seat stadium will occur Sept. 1, when the Stevenson women's soccer team opens its season against Cabrini College.
The first-year Stevenson football team, which will start its inaugural season Sept. 3 at Shenandoah, will play its initial home game against Christopher Newport one week later.
"We're not looking to compete with the Ravens," Mustangs athletic director Brett Adams said. "But we think that we can branch out into the community and make Stevenson a fun place to go."
The football game will cap off Stadium Palooza, a series of opening events designed to boost school spirit and involve the entire Stevenson community. In addition to a bull roast and movie night, the festivities will include a pep rally Sept. 9, the eve of the first football game.
"It's such a draw for incoming student-athletes, and for the community," Mike Gohlinghorst, Stevenson's assistant to the athletic director, said about the impact of Mustang Stadium. "It will be a tremendous asset for the college and really raise the level of excitement."
Following the home opener against Christopher Newport, coach Ed Hottle's Mustangs will host King's College (Sept. 17), Widener (Oct. 15), Lycoming (Oct. 22) and Albright (Nov. 5).
Hopkins Rated Highly
While Stevenson is just getting its football program started, Johns Hopkins appears poised to make a move toward the top of the NCAA Division III national rankings. The Blue Jays are ranked 20th in the Sporting News preseason poll, and could have one of the most explosive offenses in the nation.
Record-setting quarterback Hewitt Tomlin will throw to a talented group of receivers, led by preseason All-American Sam Wernick, the 2010 Centennial Conference Offensive Player of the Year. Tomlin should be well protected by a veteran offensive line, anchored by preseason All-American center Ed Rodger.
Coach Jim Margraff's team, which finished 8-3 and earned a share of the conference title last fall, is clearly one of the best in the Centennial entering the 2011 campaign. Whether the Blue Jays can mount a challenge to elite Division III national powers, such as top-ranked Wisconsin-Whitewater, Mount Union and Wesley, remains to be seen.
Sasho Is A Constant
In just more than a year, the University of Maryland has welcomed a new president, athletic director, and head coaches in men's lacrosse, football and men's basketball. But the coach of the school's men's soccer program has remained, and that's a good thing for the Terrapins.
"I'm the elder statesman now," Sasho Cirovski said. "And I hope to be here for quite a while longer. I love what I do."
Now in his 19th season at the helm, Cirovski has led the Terps to 16 NCAA postseason appearances and two NCAA titles (2005, 2008). Their 2011 season begins Aug. 26, when they face St. John's in the ACC/Big East Challenge at the Germantown SoccerPlex. Maryland hosts Stanford Sept. 2 at Ludwig Field during its on-campus opener.
"We're looking forward to contending for a national title this year," Cirovski said. "Our schedule is again one of the hardest in the country. We never take our foot off the accelerator."
The Terrapins, who return 19 letterwinners from last year's NCAA quarterfinalist team, can't afford to let up. Maryland plays in the Atlantic Coast Conference, generally regarded as the nation's toughest soccer conference. Cirovski is confident the program will succeed if it continues to recruit student-athletes with high character.
"It's an evolution," Cirovski said of the program's long-term success. "... It all starts with good people and ends with good people. It's about surrounding yourself with the right type of assistant coaches and players that can help you win the close games. We believe that relationships are the key to our success, and we've built strong bonds with a lot of people on our campus."
Towson Alters Focus
For the past two years, Towson football coach Rob Ambrose did not talk about winning. He's ready to have that discussion now.
"Year one was about learning how to finish," the Tigers' third-year mentor said at the Colonial Athletic Association's football media day. "The second year was about being competitive, and we saw the fruits of those labors when the blowout games of the first year weren't blowouts anymore. This year is about winning. We're starting to turn the corner."
The Tigers took a pounding during Ambrose's first year, losing seven games by 28 or more points. Towson was a different team last year, despite a 1-10 record that showed one fewer win than the previous season.
The Tigers were competitive against most of their CAA opponents, and nearly beat rival James Madison just a few weeks after the Dukes had stunned eventual ACC champion Virginia Tech. That's quite a feat, considering that the conference is the nation's best in the Football Championship Subdivision (formerly I-AA).
"The FBS schools are hesitant to play anybody in our conference, because on a single-game basis, they have a chance to lose," said Ambrose, who returns 16 starters from last year's team. "This is the only conference where you can play the No. 1 team in the country three times in the regular season, and they're all different teams. That speaks to the greatness of this league."
Junior defensive end Frank Beltre, the Tigers' lone selection on the preseason All-CAA team, will lead the Towson defense.
"We keep challenging Frank, and whatever bar we set, he exceeds," said Ambrose, a 1993 Towson graduate. "He has no ceiling. The consistency of our defensive group is starting to show, especially up front. It's a veteran group of guys that have grown up together."
Although Towson lost a key playmaker in current Ravens receiver Hakeem Moore, the Tigers appear to be more settled offensively, especially at quarterback.
"To win in this league, you've got to have a good quarterback and solid line play on both sides of the ball," Ambrose said.
Issue 164: August 2011