As deadline looms for Maryland cuts, one sport has good chance for survival

It all caught up with University of Maryland swimmers and divers, men's cross country runners, women's water polo players and other athletes young enough to have rarely confronted limits on their talents and dreams.

All of the team members had faced losing before. That's part of competition.

But by Saturday — the date Maryland set long ago to officially eliminate teams absent an infusion of private funds — many of the athletes had been overtaken by a deeper sort of pain and disappointment.

It appeared Friday that enough funds had been privately raised to preserve one of the eight teams originally targeted — men's outdoor track. An announcement is expected Monday.

The other teams — men's tennis; men's indoor track and field and cross country; men's and women's swimming and diving; women's water polo; and women's acrobatics and tumbling — are all but finished.

Even seven months after the announcement that Maryland could no longer afford 27 teams, some of the competitors struggled to understand being defeated not by opposing players, but by financial realities.

"It's tough because you're training and you know all the dreams you had for this team are just cut into pieces," said Kikanae Punyua, a promising, first-year cross country runner from Kenya who doesn't know if he will remain at Maryland.

He is still training this summer — jogging in the early evenings around the streets of Columbia, where he lives with the family caring for him while he is in the United States. "When you're running, you just think about the future. You think: 'Where are we going to be next year?'"

Punyua said he struggles in online conversations on Skype to explain to family members in Kenya why a large American university would have to cut teams. The biggest enemy of distance runners is stress, and he acknowledges that he had not run as well as normal this spring after learning the news.

In March, the university hinted that men's outdoor track could be preserved. The plan was to limit it to 14 men with operational costs budgeted at $125,000 per year. The school said details would not be available until next week. Punyua could decide to transfer to a school with a cross country program, or he could stay at Maryland and run outdoor track.

Maryland said it faced declines in football and men's basketball revenues. The fundraising targets to save teams were steep — including $11.6 million for men's and women's swimming and diving.

Asked Friday if the swim team was still being eliminated, Mike Halligan replied: "It's done." Halligan is a 1979 Maryland graduate whose daughter, Amy, was a sophomore on the swim team.

She is transferring to Western Kentucky. "She wanted to continue to swim and go out on her own accord and not by somebody telling her the plug is pulled," her father said.

While saving outdoor track would be welcome news, the men's track and field program would still lose its cross country and indoor squads and be forced to slice its overall roster in half.

"It's going to be a difficult adjustment to go from 28 [athletes] to 14," said Andrew Valmon, the Maryland track and field coach.

Valmon is also the men's head track coach for the upcoming Olympics. He is in Eugene, Ore., for the Olympic trials.

"We'll pick [an Olympic] team the same time we know whether we have a [Maryland] team," Valmon said.

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