Division I lacrosse preview: Maryland Terrapins

Tuesday’s entry is the seventh and final installment of a week-long 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 is slated to be published Feb. 17. This is Maryland’s turn.

Overview: The Terps enjoyed their best season in more than a decade, reaching the NCAA title game for the first time since 1998. The school also captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference tournament crown since 2005 and its first Final Four berth since 2006. Only a more determined and methodical Virginia squad prevented Maryland from snapping a national championship drought that began after the 1975 campaign. So what can coach John Tillman & Co. do for an encore?

Reason for optimism: A year ago, the offense was headlined by a senior-laden attack and backed by a questionable midfield. The script has flipped with the midfield being the more stable unit with a projected starting lineup of senior Jake Bernhardt (14 goals and three assists), junior John Haus (13, 12) and junior transfer Mike Chanenchuk (28, 8 in 2010). “If you look at what we lost, you kind of go, ‘There are question marks at attack,’” Tillman conceded. “But we see what we see in practice, and we told the guys from Day One, we realize part of the process here is developing players and looking at potential. Just as you would look at your own children, you don’t look at what your children don’t have, but you look at what they can be. We really emphasize every day just working hard to reach our full potential, to become the players we know they can be.”

Reason for pessimism: Goalkeeper Niko Amato finished his first year as a full-time starter ranked fourth in the country in goals-against average (6.78) and eighth in save percentage (.583). But can the sophomore replicate that showing with a defense that graduated all three starting close defensemen, the starting long-stick midfielder and one of two starting short-stick defensive midfielders? Tillman is unfazed. “With us, it really goes back to a system and a philosophical belief of how we’re going to play,” he said. “We’re not relying on just one person. When we have a system, you plug parts into the system and then you try to make sure that the guys are well-versed, they’re educated, they’re prepared.”

Keep an eye on: For the first three years of his career, Joe Cummings was relegated to the midfield as he bided his time behind Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Travis Reed. That trio has graduated, but Cummings has become so versatile that Tillman said the senior may start in the midfield again this season. “We feel like with what we can do, we can play him in a variety of different roles,” Tillman said. “It’s a little bit of a contradiction. He’s got the skills of an attackman. Yet, he’s so competitive. He’s a really good rider, a really good defensive midfielder because he’s so smart and a good athlete. He understands how to play defense. So he gives us the ability to play him at both.”

What he said: Various media outlets and lacrosse observers congratulated the Terps’ path last year by doubting that the team could be as successful this season because of the toll that graduation took. But that fodder has fueled the players’ outlook.”We’re not afraid to make sure that we let them know that, ‘Hey, people are doubting you guys and a lot of people think you guys can’t do it, but we believe in you, and if you work hard, this will be your opportunity to show everybody that you are a talented group and that you have the potential to win,’” Tillman said. “But the season will show what we are. The future will hold that. We don’t worry about predictions. We’ll make of the season what we make of it and what we’ve got to focus on is the things we can control, which is every day in practice, committing ourselves to working hard.”

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