Four years ago, in Cary, North Carolina, defender Chase Gasper flung his arms into the air when his volley deflected off a defender and into the back of the net. His double-overtime goal had just sent UCLA to the national championship.
None of his future Maryland men’s soccer teammates were in college yet. They wouldn’t advance to a College Cup until last week, when Sebastian Elney’s first-half goal against Kentucky in the NCAA quarterfinals became the game-winner.
Two days after Gasper’s score, his Bruins lost in the national championship. Now, as the only Terp who’s played this deep into a season, he believes this Maryland team can win the championship that evaded him four years ago.
“All the work during the spring and the summer, it’s to get back to that final. It’s what you want to do,” Gasper said. “Especially with this Maryland team, the group we have here, it’s a very special team. We definitely knew all along we had the potential.”
Gasper’s journey is coming full circle. His West Coast team went to the College Cup when it was hosted on the East Coast four years ago. After transferring to Maryland just in time for last year’s first-round exit, he’s finishing his career back in California — within 100 miles of his former school.
The advice to his teammates in preparation for this week hasn’t been extreme. When the opening whistle blows, he hopes the Terps will rely on everything they’ve done to reach the program’s first College Cup in five years.
“Just because it is a bigger stage and a lot more people are watching, nothing changes for us as players, the way we play as a team,” he said. “Take in the experience, because this is going to be a memorable one for the rest of your life, but do all the things that got us here.”
No. 11-seed Maryland reached this point in large part due to its seniors, who have scored four of the team’s five goals in the NCAA tournament. Midfielder Amar Sejdic capitalized on an error in each of the first two games, while Elney put away the Terps’ second-round win over NC State and scored the only goal in the quarterfinal.
Only Gasper knows exactly what it’s like to play into December, but Maryland’s seniors have now played in two NCAA quarterfinals, won two Big Ten championships and battled numerous ranked opponents throughout their careers.
“We have a lot of experienced players who have played in big games, in big moments,” coach Sasho Cirovski said. “We understand how hard it is to get to this weekend.”
Those matchups mean the team didn’t need to watch much film this week, unlike the previous three tournament games, Cirovski said.
Like Maryland, Indiana is a senior-led team looking for redemption. The Hoosiers’ seniors have scored five of their seven goals in the tournament. Only one has been from defender Andrew Gutman, who terrorized the Terps with three goals in the two previous meetings.
“Once we track guys a lot more and we practice that, I think they have nothing on us and we can do really well,” defender Donovan Pines said. “Hopefully, we get a goal on them first.”
Scoring first will be a priority against Indiana. In both previous matchups, Maryland had to score a second-half equalizer. The Terps have won their last nine matchups this season when scoring first, and have only one comeback win.
Cirovski has deemed this season a redemption story. This weekend, his team can redeem not only its two previous games against Indiana, but the the previous two years of no tournament wins and — like Gasper — a late loss in the NCAA tournament.
“The senior class came within a whisker of being in the College Cup their freshman year. Those kids remember that,” Cirovski said. “But that group didn’t come to Maryland just to get to a College Cup. They came here to win one.”