COLLEGE PARK - After a disappointing end to his junior season, Maryland forward Jason Garey considered turning professional - very briefly.
When he gave it more thought, Garey said he realized he had to return because he wanted "to finish what our class started three years ago."
What Maryland's gifted senior class started as freshmen was a run of three consecutive trips to NCAA Division I's College Cup, But the Terps fell in the semifinals each time, including a wrenching, 3-2, double-overtime loss to Indiana last year.
Garey and fellow returning senior starters and defensemen Chris Lancos, Kenny Bertz and Michael Dello-Russo hope to punctuate their collegiate careers with a national championship. To accomplish that, though, they'll need help from a highly regarded, but unproven group of newcomers.
"No doubt in my mind this team can get it done," Bertz said. "We've got the talent and leadership that it's going to take. ... We'll need the freshmen to step up and come together."
Lancos, Dello-Russo (Wilde Lake) and Bertz give the Terps an experienced back line, and Garey, a preseason All-American who set a school record with 53 points (22 goals, nine assists) last season, will anchor the offense.
The Terps return three other starters, including junior defender David Glaudemans and sophomore Stephen King and junior A.J. Godbolt at midfield.
To fill the other starting roles and key backup positions, Maryland will turn to some of the 11 new players, including 10 freshmen from a heralded recruiting class and senior forward Marc Burch, a transfer from Evansville.
In part because of injuries and problems securing a practice field, eight freshmen and Burch are still competing for significant playing time, coach Sasho Cirovski said yesterday - just three days before the season opener Friday night at Cal State-Fullerton.
That competition will help Cirovski answer two major questions: Who will replace Noah Palmer in goal and who will complement Garey, who has 38 goals in 43 career starts, as a scorer
Freshman Chris Seitz, a two-time Parade All-American in California, could eventually replace Palmer. But redshirt senior Craig Salvati, who has recorded two shutouts in three career starts behind Palmer, will start Friday.
Several players could complement Garey up front, including Matt Beckman, The Sun's Player of the Year at McDonogh in 2004, when he scored 26 goals. Former McDonogh teammate Michael Marchiano, a 2004 All-State pick, could earn minutes at midfield after he fully recovers from a knee bruise.
"I expect them to help us win games this year," Cirovski said of the two local freshmen.
Both of them prepared for that responsibility by spending time this summer training with their new teammates. Many of the seniors were in College Park all summer, taking classes, lifting weights, running and playing pickup games at Ludwig Field at night after leading youth camps.
The Terps, ranked No. 2 by the National Soccer Coaches Association, are favored to contend with No. 3 Duke, No. 6 Virginia and No. 10 Wake Forest in the Atlantic Coast Conference. They will have an opportunity to get back at Indiana on Oct. 29, just 10 days before the ACC tournament starts in Cary, N.C.
But they will evaluate their season on how they do should they return to Cary in December for the College Cup. That will likely hinge on how quickly their freshmen adapt to the college game and mesh with the rest of the team.
"A lot of us are good enough to contribute right away," Marchiano said. "That'll be a big factor."