Despite pain, great gains

The Baltimore Sun

The pain is constant, a nagging hurt that radiates through his left foot, broken three times. There are days when Mike Marchiano struggles to walk to class at the University of Maryland, much less to soccer practice, where he starts for the high-flying Terps.

There, Marchiano manages somehow to grin and bear weight on his battered foot, cobbled together by a 2-inch screw and a bone graft from his heel.

"There are times when I struggle to push through" the discomfort, said Marchiano, a senior co-captain from McDonogh. "But it's something I've learned to deal with. It is what it is."

Quit soccer? No way. Not with Maryland advancing to the final four and shooting for an NCAA championship this weekend in Frisco, Texas.

Tonight, the Terps (21-3) play St. John's (19-2-3) in one semifinal (8, ESPN2). Wake Forest (23-1-1) and North Carolina (14-7-1) meet in the other. Sunday's 1 p.m. championship game will be televised on ESPN2.

Marchiano helped Maryland reach the College Cup, getting the assist in his team's 1-0 quarterfinal victory over Creighton. It was the 14th straight win for the streaking Terps and the first point this season for Marchiano, of Bel Air, whose career has been marred by injuries - broken bones and concussions, bruises and sprains.

"Sometimes I think I have 'old-man's syndrome,' " he said. "My body has aged a little quicker than most."

Those who know him say Marchiano hurts more than he lets on.

"Mike is more or less playing crippled right now," said McDonogh coach Steve Nichols, a close friend. "I've seen him leave practice with tears running down his face. Most guys would throw in the towel, but he refuses to walk away. Mike cares so much for his team."

Marchiano's stamina is legendary at Maryland.

"He is a warrior who has endeared himself to his teammates," Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. "Mike is a 'we' guy, not a 'me' guy and a great player, especially when he's healthy."

Sidelined often in the past, Marchiano reported fit this season but sprained an ankle before Maryland's first exhibition. The mishap set him back two months and left him devastated.

"It was a disaster," he said. "I'd worked so hard to get ready for my last year, and now there I was again, on crutches. "

He tried to stay upbeat, mentoring rookies and shouting encouragement while coaxing the ankle into shape.

Marchiano returned, finally, as Maryland reached the postseason. He has started the past five games and is itching to face St. John's, a team the Terps have defeated three straight times in the tournament - including in 2005, when they won the NCAA championship.

"It's been quite a short season for me, but I'm thankful to be playing," Marchiano said. "Standing on the sidelines teaches you that each game, each practice could be your last. It really made me appreciate these last five games - and, hopefully, the next two.

"We won't be satisfied until we're the last team standing."

On one foot, or on two.


Today's semifinals at Frisco, Texas:

* North Carolina (14-7-1) vs. Wake Forest (23-1-1), 5:30 p.m.

* Maryland (21-3) vs. St. John's (19-2-3), 8 p.m.

Sunday's championship at Frisco, Texas: teams TBA, 1 p.m. (ESPN2)

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