When the Maryland men's soccer team opens in the NCAA tournament tomorrow against unseeded St. John's, the No. 7 Terrapins will be facing a shell of the Red Storm team that had risen to national prominence three seasons ago.
Wait, Maryland has heard that line before. The Terps won't be biting this time.
Only a week ago, the Terps began the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament with Virginia, a soccer powerhouse that had been suffering through its worst season in recent memory. As a result, Maryland played soft and collapsed hard, losing, 2-0, in the first round to the Cavaliers.
So while St. John's has only five players remaining from its 1996 national championship team and has struggled lately, the Terps have their attention fixed on winning an NCAA tournament first-round game for the sixth straight year.
"The Virginia loss was a very good reminder of what can happen in a tournament-type game if you don't play every second at your best," Maryland soccer coach Sasho Cirovski said.
A national semifinalist last year, Maryland (14-5) is limping emotionally and physically into tomorrow's 1 p.m. game at Ludwig Field.
The Terps' leading scorer the past two seasons, sophomore forward Taylor Twellman, bruised his left heel against Wisconsin on Nov. 6 and conceded he probably shouldn't have played last week. The first-team All-ACC performer took three days off from practice before returning Wednesday and expects to start tomorrow.
"When I step down on it, it feels like I'm stepping down on nails," said Twellman, who has scored 28 goals, including 12 game-winners, in 42 college games. "It's something that I just have to deal with."
Maryland needs Twellman, especially against St. John's, known for its aggressive and attacking style.
The Red Storm (11-5-3) has been erratic as much as it has been dangerous this season, outshooting its opponents, 264-100. St. John's earned one of the final at-large berths to the 32-team NCAA field after losing three of its final six games.
Maryland, however, had shown more consistency in the regular season than last year, when the Terps eventually marched into their first final four since 1969. Despite starting just one senior this season, Maryland had previously lost to only Top 10 programs before its disappointing effort against Virginia.
"We came in light-hearted and light-headed," said Twellman, one of 12 underclassmen to start for Maryland this year. "We can't concentrate on the other team and things we can't control. We have to concentrate on how Maryland plays. Fortunately, it happened in the ACC tournament and not the NCAA tournament."
While the Terps may be young, Cirovski is experienced in helping his teams rebound. Since 1994, Maryland has lost at least once in the final two weeks of the regular season, then advanced to at least the second round of the NCAA tournament each time. In fact, the Terps haven't lost consecutive games in three seasons, and this year's team has been just as resilient.
"After every loss, we've come out the next game real strong," Cirovski said. "The loss still stings, but there's a lot of pride in our guys."