The Terps (4-4-2) open up their 2021 NCAA Tournament campaign against the Bears (11-1) in Wilmington, NC, Sunday at 1 p.m.
“Just really excited to get down to Wilmington and take on Missouri State,” head coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We had an exceptional week of training of the year… guys are excited, re-energized, refocused and ready for the challenge against an outstanding Missouri State team.”
Despite a strong 4-1-2 finish of the season, the selection show caused some anxiety for the squad.
“Heads were pretty down, and our chances were not looking good,” senior forward Eric Matzelevich said.
The selection show announced that the Terps made the 2021 NCAA tournament in the latter stages.
“I was personally kind of in a lot of shock to see us make the tournament,” Matzelevich said. “But I mean, I think we fully deserve it, so we’re just you know taking it and then running with it.”
In its last match on April 14, Maryland conceded two goals against top-seeded Indiana at the Big Ten Tournament semifinal in Bloomington, IN. The match ended in a 2-0 Indiana victory.
After the deflating defeat, Cirovski gave the squad four days off. Maryland faced the whole season with injuries and tired legs. The players got an extended break as the second round of the tournament begins on May 2.
“We were a little thin, little beat up, but I think feel we are a little rejuvenated, well-rested and I think we are ready to go,” Cirovski said.
The Terps are not downplaying the Bears. Missouri State won the Missouri Valley Conference regular and tournament titles. The Bears bring many international players, including those from academies in England and Spain youth systems.
“I really feel like they are one of the top teams in the nation,” Cirovski said. “We know we’re gonna have to be our best.”
The Bears bring a devastating defense and equally good attack. Missouri State has conceded eight goals in 12 matches while allowing their opponent an average of 6.5 shot attempts per match. The Bears have only allowed their opponent 29 shot attempts on target.
“They’re a good team, no doubt,” Matzelevich said. “They’re a good group, their attack is really polished, really potent, so it’s going to be a really good game.”
Maryland has faced top-notch competition who are in the tournament like Indiana and Penn State with mixed results. With prior experience against stout competition with fresh legs and minds, Maryland is hoping they will prevail.
With the roller-coaster season and the surprise of getting into the tournament, the Terps are taking full advantage of their opportunity.
“We’re playing with that kind of, you know, David versus Goliath mentality,” Matzelevich said. “Nobody thinks that we’re going to do well, nobody thinks that we’re going to make a run.”
The winner of the match will face either Washington or Grand Canyon in the next round.