Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski remembers the exact moment when the "light clicked on" for midfielder John Stertzer late in his sophomore year in a game against Virginia.
Until then, Stertzer had shown flashes of greatness, but was at times inconsistent, drawing the ire of his coach. It was during that game against the Cavaliers that Stertzer emerged as a complete two-way player, scoring on a header in the 47th minute and playing flawless defensively in a 2-0 victory.
Now a senior, Stertzer heard the overtures at the end of last season, with some predicting he would be a first-round pick in the Major League Soccer SuperDraft. Nonetheless, his commitment to Maryland never wavered and he is focused on helping Maryland capture its third national championship since 2005 and fourth overall. The journey continues Sunday when Maryland takes on Brown, an at-large selection from the Ivy League, in the second round of the NCAA Division I Men's Soccer Tournament at Ludwig Field, where the Terps have not lost this season.
"When I came to Maryland, I learned I could not just be an offensive player, I had to be a complete player," said Stertzer, an Oakton, Va., native. "There are always rumors as a player surrounding the draft, but there were still goals at Maryland I wanted to achieve. I love to play on this team."
Stertzer and teammate Taylor Kemp each earned a spot on the 2012 NSCAA Men's MAC Hermann Award Watch List, which goes to the nation's top college soccer player. Prior to the season, Cirovski knew he had assembled a talented group of players, but they have been even better than he thought.
"I think, to be fair, they have met and exceeded expectations," said Cirovski, who guided the Terps to their third ACC tournament championship in five years last Sunday. "Their camaraderie and willingness to be humble and put the team first has exceeded expectations."
The Terps have qualified for the NCAA tournament for 12 consecutive seasons. However, this year's senior class would be the first since 1997 to not reach at least one College Cup if they fall short of their goal.
Stertzer was one of Maryland's most dangerous offensive weapons last season, scoring 14 goals. He was a First-Team All-ACC pick and earned All-American honors. This season, Stertzer has seven goals and six assists, but by all accounts, he is a more complete player able to dictate the entire game from his midfield position. Forward Patrick Mullins has handled the bulk of the scoring with a team-high 13 goals.
"I'm willing to do whatever it takes to win," Stertzer said. "We have other guys who are able to score goals. Our goal is to be the best team in the country."
Cirovski has seen first-hand the development of Stertzer as a highly-touted recruit coming out of Flint Hill School in Virginia. He said Stertzer has grown into the type of player his teammates try to emulate.
"He is one of our primary leaders on the field." Cirovski said. "His goals are down, but his play is up."Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun