Four local transfers have helped UMBC men's soccer to NCAA tournament

The Baltimore Sun
Four former Baltimore club soccer teammates are now seniors starring for the UMBC soccer team.

It's not often four teammates on a club soccer team graduate from high school, go off to play at different Division I programs and then return to their hometown to complete their NCAA eligibility.

But that's what happened when midfielders Geaton Caltabiano and Marquez Fernandez and backs Mamadou Kansaye and Oumar Ballo enrolled at UMBC.

It's a coincidence, Kansaye said, but a good one.

The familiarity among the four has helped them on the field. Ballo and Kansaye have won three straight America East Conference titles since joining the Retrievers in 2012. Fernandez and Caltabiano, who joined the team in 2013, have been members on two of those championship teams.

The seniors hope their chemistry will help when they face Wake Forest (10-7-1) on Thursday in Winston-Salem, N.C., in the first round of the NCAA tournament

"The chemistry as a group is pretty fantastic," UMBC coach Pete Caringi said. "The history, the chemistry, they're like brothers."

It goes way back to middle school, when Kansaye and Fernandez met. All four seniors grew up in the Baltimore area but went to separate schools — Caltabiano to Mount Saint Joseph, Ballo to Archbishop Curley and Kansaye and Fernandez to McDonogh.

But they played together and won national championships with the Baltimore Bays Development Academy team.

Then Ballo went to play at CCBC-Essex and Fernandez at Maryland, while Caltabiano and Kansaye both left the state to play at George Mason and N.C. State, respectively.

Yet, none of them found quite what they were looking for.

Now they're together again and have contributed to the Retrievers winning their fourth conference title all-time — second only to Boston University's seven — and did not lose a game against an America East opponent this season.

"In the club days, we kind of had this relentless, blue-collar attitude, kind of representing how a lot of teams in Baltimore are, where we're not going to back down, no matter who we face," Fernandez said. "Our attitude from our club days is transferring to college today."

Kansaye said the familiarity among the players gives UMBC (12-5-3) a huge advantage, especially when they can anticipate each other's moves.

"Most of the time when the ball goes over my head at midfield, I can always expect Marquez to cover anything that goes beyond me," Kansaye said. "And anything that's a foot race I can expect him to be there for that as well."

It's a mentality they're taking into their matchup at Wake Forest, which Caringi said will be tough. While the Demon Deacons lost in the first round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament on Nov. 9 to Clemson, which has the No. 7-seed in the NCAA tournament, they're a team that is reaching the national tournament for the 12th time in 13 years.

"Theres a lot of respect for their program," Caringi said. "But the beauty of our team is that we won't be in awe of anyone."

UMBC has some help in that the four seniors have played against several Wake Forest players from the area, including forward Michael Gamble (McDonogh), midfielder Ricky Greensfelder (Curley) and goalkeeper Andrew Harris (Gilman).

But the Retrievers are confident and prepared to shut down the balanced Demon Deacons attack, which has three players tied for the team lead in goals, with six.

"We're going to shut down their attack with an experienced backline. They've played together now for a couple years," Caringi said. "So as potent as their forwards are, I'm pretty confident in our backline and we'll do the best we can to shut them down."

But whether UMBC wins or loses on Thursday, the four seniors said they will cherish every minute.

"It means everything, we only have 90 minutes of guaranteed soccer left, maybe in our career, and we can't let a second go by," Caltabiano said. "It means a lot."

An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Oumar Ballo went to play at Loyola Maryland.

bcheng@baltsun.com

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An earlier version of this article incorrectly said Oumar Ballo went to play at Loyola Maryland.

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