Wednesday's entry is the fifth in a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun’s lacrosse preview will be published on Friday, Feb. 7. This is Maryland’s turn.
Overview: The Terps enjoyed what would be considered a successful regular season in many circles, with 10 wins for the first time since 2007 and the program’s first Atlantic Coast Conference title since 2004.
But the No. 1 seed fell to No. 4 seed Virginia in the league tournament, and the downward spiral continued until a loss to Cornell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.
The early eviction was a dramatic departure for Maryland, which had advanced to the championship final in 2011 and 2012. The team is 35-14 in three seasons under coach John Tillman, but can he get the Terps over the hump?
Reason for optimism: The defense surrendered 8.2 goals per game last spring, after allowing 7.9 goals in 2012, but the unit still ranked ninth in Division I in that department.
Senior goalkeeper Niko Amato (7.98 goals-against average and .594 save percentage) and all three starting defensemen in senior Michael Ehrhardt (53 ground balls and 15 caused turnovers) and juniors Goran Murray (19 GB, 13 CT) and Casey Ikeda (14 GB, 10 CT) are back.
The graduation of first-team All-American long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt (59 GB, 25 CT) hurts, but that void could be filled by junior Mike Bender, sophomore Mike McCarney or freshman Mac Pons, though Tillman did not dismiss the idea of moving Ehrhardt, Murray or Ikeda up and inserting sophomore Matt Dunn (8 GB, 4 CT) on close defense.
Senior Brian Cooper (10 GB, 10 CT) and sophomore Nick Manis (1 GB, 1 CT) are poised to start at SSDM with sophomore Zach Fixen and freshman John Belz helping out.
“[L]ike a lot of Maryland teams in the past, we do focus on defense and being stingy there and being strong in the goal and being tough and physical,” Tillman said. “We want to make sure that we’re aggressive on defense, but also aggressive on offense and in transition. So we’re hoping that those guys have the type of year that they can have, especially if they stay healthy and continue to improve.”
Reason for pessimism: An offense that scored fewer than 10 goals in four of the team’s last five contests was weakened even further by the graduation of attackmen Kevin Cooper (20 goals and 22 assists) and Owen Blye (22, 8) and midfielders John Haus (18, 10) and Jake Bernhardt (17, 7).
Senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (23, 14) and junior attackman Jay Carlson (20, 2) are back, but there are a plethora of candidates vying to join them as starters. Tillman said the responsibility falls on the coaches to keep the players who start in the season opener vs. Mount St. Mary's on Feb. 8 grounded.
“What we’ve got to make sure to do is that we’re not asking these guys to do too much,” he said. “We need to reinforce with them the fundamentals, the decision making, the speed of play, being opportunistic, making smart plays. The better we play as a team, the less pressure there is on the rest of the guys. It’s [about] playing well together.”
Keep an eye on: The graduation of four starters and six key contributors opens the door for the younger Terps to make an impression sooner rather than later.
Freshmen such as attackmen Matt Rambo and Tim Rotanz, midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen, Pons and Belz could gain considerable playing time. Tillman said he has few reservations about playing the rookies.
“I think the best guys should play,” he said. “Much like any year, we let it play out. … We had two scrimmages last week, and we have two more this weekend. We’ll have four game opportunities for guys to go out there and do a great job and prove themselves. When you’re playing an outside opponent, it gets a little harder for a young guy to know, ‘OK, what does this guy do?’ Over the course of the fall and early part of spring, you know what the tendencies are of some of your teammates.
"A lot of guys are pretty intelligent players and will pick up on those things. Game-like situations where it’s a little bit new and a little nit more unpredictable, you really see what these guys can do when they’re facing more of an unknown.”
What he said: While the defense is a known commodity, Maryland’s offense is headlined by Chanenchuk, Carlson and a group of players who are perhaps unfamiliar to many outsiders. The absence of superstars is does not distresses Tillman.
“We certainly don’t have some of the names that people are more familiar with,” he said. “Now when I walked through the door two years ago, the knock was, ‘What are they going to do with their young midfield?’ We had [attackmen] Travis Reed and Ryan Young and Grant Catalino, but Jake Bernhardt and Owen Blye and John Haus weren’t household names. To their credit, they worked extremely hard to become great players and guys that are playing professionally now, and now there are other players ready to make their claim and make names for themselves and contribute strongly.
"So, we’re excited about some of those guys doing that. To expect those new faces and young guys to replicate maybe what a Jake Bernhardt or Jesse [Bernhardt] or John Haus did would be a little unfair right now. So I think what we have to do collectively is make sure that we play well together as a team and put those guys in a position where we feel like they can be successful based on their strengths and the things that they bring to the table and rely on the system.”Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun