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Seeking gain, Mids say pain no excuse

The Baltimore Sun

Mother knows best. Basil Daratsos knows that now.

After returning in July from two months of training for the Naval Academy, Daratsos, a midfielder on the Navy men's lacrosse team, signed up to play in an recreational soccer league in his hometown, Niskayuna, N.Y.

Despite warnings from his mother, Nina, Daratsos signed up on a Friday. Two days later, Daratsos tore the anterior cruciate ligament and meniscus in his right knee in his first game.

"My mom was all against it," Daratsos recalled with a sheepish grin. "She said you're going to break your leg or something. After I tore it, I remember seeing my parents looking up into the ceiling and saying, 'Oh my God.' And I had to hear it from her."

Daratsos, however, returned to the Midshipmen and has not missed a game this season. The sophomore has been joined by senior midfielder Terence Higgins, who broke his right foot in an annual football game on campus in November but has played in 13 games.

Daratsos and Higgins are expected to play when Navy (9-5) visits fourth-seeded North Carolina (8-5) in the first round of the NCAA tournament at 7:30 tonight.

Both players still aren't completely healthy. Daratsos, who grits his teeth when he bends his still-swelled right leg, has recorded five goals and two assists in 12 starts - which pales in comparison to the 17 goals and two assists he posted as a freshman.

Higgins, who must alternate icing and resting his injured foot, hasn't scored a goal and has compiled four assists this season. He recorded six goals and 15 assists over the three previous seasons.

But they aren't asking for sympathy. Enduring injuries while continuing to perform is part of the code at the academy where warfare is a concrete possibility. No current player on the squad has asked for or received a medical redshirt.

"We don't really do redshirts at this school," Higgins said. "I just came to the realization that this is in front of me, this is what I want to do, and this is why I'm here. I might as well just take care of this first and think about everything later."

Added Midshipmen coach Richie Meade, who tore his left ACL while playing in college in 1974: "That's the expectation in the military. In any military unit, there are men and women who serve while wounded. ... We obviously would not expect them to play if their injuries could be worse."

The biggest adjustment for Daratsos and Higgins has been regaining a comfort level. Higgins said at times he hesitates when making his first step on the right foot where a screw was inserted to help fuse bones.

For Daratsos, the transition has been mental.

"Having the injury, I'm trying to play outside of my bounds," he said, citing a game at Maryland on April 4 when he was stripped of the ball on his first three possessions. "I'm trying too hard instead of just playing inside our offense. So I wonder, 'Maybe if I didn't have the knee, I wouldn't have to prove myself that I'm healthy enough.' "

Yet, Daratsos and Higgins agree that nothing would have prevented them from returning for this season. Both came back before their projected return dates out of a sense of duty to their teammates.

"When we signed on in August, the coaches tells us, 'This is where you are; this is what we need out of you. Make sure you get it done,' " Higgins said. "Had I not come back, I would've felt like I was vacating that role and not living up to what my guys expect of me. So more than anything, you want to get back for them."

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