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Chattin’ With: Pete Caringi, Part I

UMBC Men's Soccer Championship

Last fall, the UMBC men’s soccer team experienced the school’s greatest athletic achievement by reaching the national semifinal after shocking the college soccer world and not only advancing past four of the most prestigious teams in the country but by shutting them out. But this wasn’t the first taste of success for the Retrievers, just the most. For the past five years, UMBC has been one of the elite teams in the country, making NCAA tournaments, advancing and having numerous players get drafted. Just last month, 2014 stars Oumar Ballo and Kay Banjo were the latest Retrievers to get drafted into the MLS. In this special edition of Corey’s Corner, Corey sits down with UMBC head coach Pete Caringi, the 2014 NSCAA National Coach of the Year, and talks about his season, his program and plenty more.

Corey Johns: Pretty good season last year, what was that like going to the final four?

Pete Caringi: It was very special. You have a group of players you’ve seen develop; a lot of local players you watch throughout the years and all coming back to the same college. It was a special group that culminated in the most unbelievable seasons here at UMBC in history and I’m just proud to be associated with it.

Pete Caringi has been UMBC's head coach for 24 years and was named the 2014 NSCAA National Coach of the Year.

Pete Caringi has been UMBC’s head coach for 25 years and was named the 2014 NSCAA National Coach of the Year.

CJ: You’ve been on the cusp of it for a few years…

Caringi: If you go back to 2010, we had a great run at the end and we didn’t lose the game we just didn’t advance (against William & Mary in penalty kicks) and we took a lot away from that, that was our first experience. Fast forward to 2012 and it’s similar, a lot of these kids were here and had championship pedigree. 2013 we had one loss and in the second round at home we don’t lose we just don’t advance (against Connecticut). You have that experience against “bigger school” and really never been beaten in the NCAA tournament. All that helps gather your confidence together and our seniors, a lot of them had been there before and there was a quiet confidence.

CJ: You’re an offensive guy, was it strange for you to win games without necessarily scoring?

Caringi: Collectively our back four and our goalkeeper really peaked during the tournament and we weren’t giving up goals. Everyone says defense wins championships and it’s hard to argue with it but I come from the philosophy that if you get two goals we can get three. Going into the tournament we had a back four and goalkeeper playing lock down defense and collectively we played our best defense. We didn’t attack as much as we would during the season but when you’re playing at home you want to attack with reckless abandon but you’d be foolish to go on the road against a program that has won a national champions and think we’re going to attack them off the field. To our credit our defense played great. Even though people think we’ve changed our mindset, we just wanted to get a result, we just wanted to advance and move on.

CJ: You’ve been at UMBC for a long time, helping move UMBC up to Division I and from smaller conferences to bigger and bigger conferences. What has that journey been like for you?

Caringi: It’s very satisfying to see where we are today. It took a lot of hard work. It had a lot of peaks and had some years where there were valleys but that’s part of the nature of the business. You’d like to have a great year every year but some years that hasn’t happened and it’s never been for lack of effort but just to see where we are today versus where we were in the past — and I say that when my first year here we were 15-5. We’ve had some really good teams the past 25 years and in some respects all those guys were a factor in where we are today. Getting guys like (Giuliano) Celenza to come here and P.J. Wakefield or Marcus Gross. Going back to (Jason) Dieter and (Pete) Eibner in the very beginning and Darius Taylor. There is a long list of great players that have played here and I just feel that the success we had last year, they were all a part of that by coming here and building the foundation.

CJ: Coaching is such a volatile situation where guys don’t get decades to build a program. What does it mean to you that UMBC has been so committed to you and your direction?

Caringi: It’s UMBC’s commitment to me and it’s been my commitment to staying here in my town, where I was born and raised. I’ve had opportunities to move on several times, whether it was a Division I school or the professional ranks and I choose to stay. A lot of that had to do with my family and my affection for this place. It took a lot of hard years but there were years I had the opportunity to move on but I decided to stay because this is my town. This is where I was born and raised. Not many people get the opportunity in this profession to stay in one place as long as I had and to have the benefit to do it in your home town. Watching it evolve into a national program, there is a lot of self satisfaction.

CJ: Stability has been the whole basis of this program, your assistants have been with you forever too.

Caringi: The amazing thing about our coaching staff is that Anthony Adams and Sam Debone have been with me for so many years. Anthony came here as a player, that’s over 20 years. It’s been over 20 years with coach Debone. That stability is unheard of in this profession. I dare say that any program in any sport has two people who have been around over 20 years on the coaching staff along with the head coach. Dan Louisignau was a guy who played here and has done a fantastic job in his short time. I think the coaching staff is second to none and I owe a great deal of the success to those guys being with me every day.

Geaton Caltabiano didn't originally choose UMBC but is another local player from a lineage of successful soccer players in the Baltimore area to join UMBC.

Geaton Caltabiano didn’t originally choose UMBC but is another local player from a lineage of successful soccer players in the Baltimore area to join UMBC. His father, Nello Caltabiano, won a national championship in 1976 with the Loyola Greyhounds.

CJ: Every time you talk about the team you can really tell it means a lot to you that it’s local guys doing it.

Caringi: I think it goes back to the history of the game in this area. Back in the 70s we had a great team in University of Baltimore, with Loyola, Towson, UMBC it was a great era. It was all local kids going to local schools and the programs were second to none winning national championships. I watched throughout the years and when you get the best local players to go to the same school you’ll have a lot of success. I take great pride in that. It doesn’t mean we don’t try to get the best players nationally but it’s a great benefit to have a couple of guys who played with each other in the past fighting on the field for the same purpose. I can recall winning a National Championship in the 70s (with University of Baltimore) and there was a great deal of pride with it being a lot of local players. Back then it was Baltimore-based but now I say it’s more regionally based with Maryland, Northern Virginia and up to Delaware.

CJ: That has to help build a fan base too because a lot of local soccer fans know all these players.

Caringi: That’s what it is. You have a great stadium, the venue is one of the best around, you have the lights and great atmosphere and you have a team busting their butt every night and if you’re a fan and bring your son or daughter or just come with your friends, most of the time you’re going to see a team that plays as hard as possible and you can probably relate to one of two kids on the field because they went to a school you’re a familiar with or your school. We’ve done a great job with the population here. UMBC has been phenomenal. Alumni come back, the soccer community comes out and that there is a great draw to have that many people come to support one school. We take great pride in our facility and that the Maryland community comes out to watch UMBC play.

CJ: What does it mean to your program to have this run of players being drafted – Oumar Ballo and Kay Banjo being the latest MLS picks?

Caringi: It’s the culmination of having good players come through to turn out to be great players. When you come into a Division I program like UMBC, no matter what level you are, you like to think you’re going to get better by the time you leave. The last couple of years we have produced a lot of player who got better: Levi Houapeu, Andrew Bulls, Pete (Caringi III), Kadeem Dacres, Phil Saunders. This year, it’s not over yet. Oumar and Kay got drafted but Mamadou Kansaye and Marquez Fernandez should get signed. That’s a great sign of the program and the players. One thing we stress to them is that they come here to not only get drafted but to get their degrees and in just about every case they got their degrees or came back to get their degrees.

CJ: That has to help with recruiting too right, having guys get drafted out of here?

Caringi: I think our newest recruiting class is one of the best in the country and we got early commitments that I’m ecstatic about. The awareness of the program because of the academic success, the soccer success and because of the players having the opportunity to play at the professional level, it really is nothing but great news and helps in all facets. It helps in recruiting and helps the current players get better.

CJ: It used to be all about the Maryland Terps, are you beating them out for recruits now?

Caringi: Obviously we’ve had a lot of good players but I think we’re getting kids to look at us earlier than ever before and now we’re in the running with ‘the biggest schools in the country’. Maryland has their niche and their reputation. In a lot of respects we’re not competing against them because we’re in a different conference but I don’t think we’re sitting here looking at Maryland. I have a lot of respect for them and what they have accomplished but when we’re out recruiting we’re trying to sell our school and what we can do and find that player who is going to have a great experience here.

Stay tuned until next time, when Caringi gets asked the hard questions, like which player has improved the most under his tutelage and who he was most shocked never got an opportunity to play professionally

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Corey Johns

Editor in Chief
You could say Corey was born to become a sports journalist. His father won a national championship coaching college soccer. His mother is a baseball fanatic who hasn't missed seeing an Orioles game since 1983 (literally, sometimes it's annoying). His great uncle was a big-time boxing promoter and his maternal grandfather was once a department head at the Baltimore Sun. Basically, sports and journalism run through his blood. He played just about every little league sports there was when he was a kid and was a multi-sport athlete in high school; even playing in the first-ever high school sanction Rugby game in the country. Eventually he retired from sports as an undefeated Maryland state Rugby champion as a high school senior. Perhaps lack of athletic talent has more to do with the retirement, but he will tell you that it more had to do with a great desire to jump right into media. Upon his graduation from University of Maryland, Baltimore County as a triple communications major, Corey started the So Much Sports network and has continued to grow his websites and continues to work to make them premier sports media outlets.

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