CARY, N.C. (AP) – The NCAA College Cup has a marquee matchup: No. 1 Maryland versus No. 2 New Mexico.

The Terrapins (18-4-2), a traditional powerhouse who ended three years of frustration by reaching the national championship game, will be trying to win their first title in nearly four decades today at SAS Soccer Stadium in suburban Raleigh.

New Mexico (18-1-3) is in the final for the first time and is bidding for the school’s first national title in a sport other than skiing.

“It’s a dream matchup. The consensus top two programs in the country are in the right place at the right time,” Maryland coach Sasho Cirovski said. “It’s going to be a very competitive game.”

The Terrapins reached the semifinals the past three years and lost in suburban Los Angeles; Columbus, Ohio; and Dallas. This time, seniors like midfielder Michael Dello-Russo are playing the 13th game of their careers in Cary, home to Atlantic Coast Conference tournaments.

“I felt a lot less pressure this year, surprisingly, than I did last year,” Dello-Russo said.

Maryland is trying for its first national soccer title since 1968, when the Terrapins shared the title with Michigan State after the final ended tied 2-2 after two overtime periods.

Maryland advanced to the title game with a 4-1 win over SMU on Friday. It could have been worse, as the Terrapins kept the pressure on throughout.

The Terrapins also set a team record of 65 goals for the season for an average of 2.7 goals per game, second-best in the nation.

The Lobos feature rugged players in the front and back. The average height of New Mexico’s four defenders is 6-foot-1, led by 6-4 New Zealander Andrew Boyens, who scored the winning goal on a header in Friday’s 2-1 semifinal win over Clemson.

New Mexico coach Jeremy Fishbein promised to pit New Mexico’s strength against Maryland’s flash.

“Jason Garey needs to worry about what he’s going to do about our centerbacks,” Fishbein said.

Leading scorer Jeff Rowland, who has 16 goals this season, anticipates a strength advantage over Maryland’s defenders.

“I’m used to going against big guys. I think I’m decent enough in the air to have a good matchup against smaller backs,” he said.

New Mexico starts one freshman and has nine seniors on its 26-man roster – the most of any of the four teams in the semifinals. Maryland has six seniors and starts three freshmen.

“Our guys are a pretty veteran team that’s played in big games,” Fishbein said. “Once you’re here, all you know is it’s single-elimination, and tomorrow (Sunday) is our last game.”

If New Mexico wins, it will be only the second national crown in a team sport in the school’s history. Lobos midfielder Lars Loeseth would be a part of both title teams. He helped win the 2004 NCAA skiing championship.

The Norwegian came to Albuquerque on a skiing scholarship and placed third in the slalom and eighth in the giant slalom that year. Informal workouts with the soccer team led to a scholarship offer from Fishbein, making soccer Loeseth’s focus and freeing up a scholarship on the ski team.

Fishbein said he wanted the 23-year-old’s grit and maturity on the team. Loeseth also added three goals and five assists.

“He’s a world-class athlete,” Fishbein said. “His preparation, his maturity, that adds a lot to our team.”

Loeseth said he brings exacting habits of training and preparation, traits he developed because skiers don’t have constant coaching supervision.

“You learn what it takes to become a winner,” he said.

AP-ES-12-10-05 1859EST

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