COLLEGE PARK — COLLEGE PARK -- He just had concluded a brilliant high school career, and although Shane Dougherty had yet to make the biggest decision of his life, he had ruled out playing soccer at the University of Maryland.
Until coach Sasho Cirovski called in February 1993, that is. A few days earlier, Cirovski had been hired at Maryland to revive a program that had been treading water in the Atlantic Coast Conference for most of the past 20 years. Overall, the Terps had won 10 of their past 35 games.
Cirovski's first task was equally daunting: convincing Dougherty, one of the state's dynamic college prospects, who recently had carried Fallston High to a state title, that coming to Maryland would be in his best interest.
"He [Cirovski] called one night, and he insisted on coming up for a visit," recalled Dougherty, who was considering James Madison and Syracuse. "He came straight to my house. He was there in an hour. He talked to me and my parents for three hours. It seemed like he really cared for the program."
Suddenly, so did Dougherty. He agreed to pay Maryland a recruiting visit two weeks later. Shortly after that, he decided to take his chances in College Park.
Eighteen months later, the Terps are thrilled with his decision. Maryland is nine games into the 1994 season, and it's obvious this team radically has departed from its typical path.
With their 1-0 victory over Wake Forest on Sunday, the Terps improved to 7-2, their best start after nine games since 1973. In a recent, one-week stretch, they beat two ranked teams -- No. 12 Duke and No. 4 James Madison. As the season reaches its midpoint, Maryland is being mentioned as an NCAA tournament contender. The Terps haven't reached the postseason since 1986.
And the man in the middle of the turnaround has been Dougherty, the 5-foot-7, 135-pound sophomore striker whose skills and tenacity have made the Terps a force in the ACC.
Nine games into Dougherty's sophomore year, he leads the team with 10 goals and two assists. He has scored goals in seven of nine games. He is three goals away from owning the single-season school record.
How far have the Terps come? During Dougherty's freshman season, Maryland finished 3-14-1. The team lacked depth and was especially short on offense. After the Terps lost midfielder Tod Herskovitz to a back injury early in the season, Cirovski was forced to stabilize that unit by moving Dougherty back to midfield. Maryland hung in many games with a tough defense, but could muster only 22 goals in 18 games. The Terps already have 27 goals this fall.
Dougherty owes part of his progress to another fine recruiting job by Cirovski. This year, he signed midfielders Leo Cullen, Parade National Player of the Year, and Mike McIlwain, Florida Player of the Year. Dougherty also has benefited from the return of Herskovitz, one of the top players in the ACC.
But the main reason Dougherty has moved into 19th place on the national scoring list is he once again is free to bring his offensive weapons to bear on the front line.
"He's capable of scoring brilliant goals, but he loves scoring garbage goals just as much," said Cirovski, who watched Dougherty's penalty kick lift the Terps over Wake Forest. "He has that goal-scoring knack. That's the way great scorers are. They always believe their time will come. They can't be shaken by a missed shot."
Dougherty doesn't rattle easily. He has played soccer for nearly 15 years, and has performed on Olympic Developmental Program teams since middle school. By the time he got to Fallston High, the school's program was in disarray. Dougherty led a resurgence that he capped by leading the Cougars to the state title in 1992. He started all four years at forward and wound up his career as the top scorer in school history with 70 goals and 37 assists.
"After my first year of college, when our record was terrible, I told myself, 'Don't worry about it. It was like this at Fallston,' " said Dougherty, who had one goal and four assists last year. "I wanted to be part of a program where, when I got there, they were doing OK, but not national champions. I want to feel like I've really contributed when I leave."
After last year's disappointment, Dougherty got reacquainted with winning when he joined the Baltimore Spirit's under-19 team, which won the national championship two months ago. He then announced his arrival on Maryland's front line three weeks ago by scoring four goals in the Terps' 4-0 victory over UMBC.
"A game like that raises your confidence, maybe gets you to take shots that you normally wouldn't take," he said.
"I didn't do anything different. It just seemed like everything I hit was finding the corner of the net."
The way Cirovski sees it, there was no luck involved.
"Scorers need great persistence, in addition to skill," Cirovski said. "The kid has got that sense. He's got grit, confidence, and he's a winner."
How Shane Dougherty and Maryland have performed this season (Maryland score listed first):
Opponent, score .. .. .. G .. .. A
Old Dominion, 2-0 ... .. 1 .. .. 0
UMBC, 6-0 .. .. .. .. .. 4 .. .. 0
Virginia, 2-4 . .. .. .. 0 .. .. 0
American, 4-2 . .. .. .. 1 .. .. 2
N.C. State, 3-4 .. .. .. 1 .. .. 0
Towson State, 4-0 ... .. 1 .. .. 0
Duke, 3-1 .. .. .. .. .. 1 .. .. 0
James Madison, 2-1 .. .. 0 .. .. 0
Wake Forest, 1-0 . .. .. 1 .. .. 0
Totals: 7-2 ... .. .. . 10 .. .. 2