Two schools who are members of the Atlantic Coast Conference played for the 2014 NCAA Division I College Cup championship.
Two schools in the same conference who are passing by each other going in different directions.
One, the Maryland Terrapins, were a charter member of the ACC, going back to the year 1953. The other, Notre Dame, is just getting started as one of three former members of the Big East Conference who now call the ACC home.
The Terps entered the final game at PPG Park outside of Philadelphia as the reigning ACC champions. They were going for their fourth national championship.
The Fighting Irish had never before been in the national championship game. Nevertheless they took advantage of the opportunity, scored a pair of goals off of free kicks, and captured a historic first men’s national soccer championship.
The leader of the band for Maryland was senior Patrick Mullins, who got a lot of help from freshman goalkeeper Zack Steffen.
Like he’s been doing all season long, Mullins put the Terps up 1-0 with about 10 minutes left in the first half. It was a lead that would not last.
The Irish got the game leveled with a goal just before halftime. Senior defender Andrew O’Malley slammed home a header off another free kick 25 minutes into the second half.
Try and Mullins and his mates tried, they could not find an equalizer.
The under-story in the championship scenario was Notre Dame’s 68-year-old head coach Bobby Clark. He and Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski have a personal and professional relationship that goes back 30 years.
Widely respected in the coaching community, Clark had coached Division I soccer at Dartmouth, Stanford and Notre Dame for 27 years, never winning a national title.
He had taken Stanford to the title game in 1998, but lost 3-1 to the Indiana Hoosiers. This time his Fighting Irish got the job done.
After the game Cirovski declared that he was “genuinely happy” for Clark, his longtime friend and mentor.
“To lose today to a great Notre Dame team is no disgrace, not any shame,” said the Maryland head coach. “There is heartache and disappointment in our locker room right now, but in true Maryland fashion, we’ll be back. We came one play or two plays away from celebrating today.
“We’re all smiling big smiles,” said Clark after the game.
A couple of days later in a radio interview with John Harkes and Tony Meola, Clark joked about his wife’s reaction to winning the championship.
“I got home and she told me, ‘It’s about time,’” said Clark. “When you have a Scottish wife, it helps, so (that) my head doesn’t get too big.”
Notre Dame reached the title match with a 2-0 win over New Mexico, the only non-ACC team among the four semifinalists.
Maryland edged Virginia in the third meeting this season between the two longtime rivals. Mullins scored both goals for the Terps, and Steffen came up with several key saves. For the third time in three tries, the Cavaliers had come up a bit short.
Virginia head coach George Gelnovatch expressed his feelings that his team had played their best game against Maryland, but that the difference was Mullins and Steffen
Mullins finished his senior season with 19 goals and shared the Most Outstanding Player award in the finals with Notre Dame’s Harrison Shipp. Mullins and Shipp are both finalists for the 2013 MAC Hermann Trophy, symbolic of the Division I National Player of the Year.
Maryland is off to the Big 12 next year. That was not a soccer decision. More about the other football program in College Park.
Louisville will join the ACC in the fall, and while the league gets stronger and stronger with expansion, the conference will miss the Terps in men’s and women’s soccer.
But despite some key senior losses, Cirovski likes his team’s chances to return to the College Cup a year from now.
“At Maryland we shoot for the stars every year,” he said. “We aim high. And when you aim that high and when you don’t reach it, you still end up at the moon, which is higher than most people.”
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