Maryland has averaged almost 12 wins in each of John Tillman’s three seasons, but there is some speculation that reaching that benchmark in 2014 could be a much more difficult proposition.
Much of that is based on the Terps graduating attackmen Kevin Cooper and Owen Blye and midfielders John Haus and Jake Bernhardt. That’s four starters who combined for 77 goals and 47 assists, accounting for 47.5 percent of last year’s goals and 51.6 percent of the assists.
The team also bade farewell to first-team All-American long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt, short-stick defensive midfielder Landon Carr, attackman Billy Gribbin and faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes.
The voids created by those graduations – and the addition of Syracuse and Notre Dame to the Atlantic Coast Conference – have many outsiders thinking that the upcoming spring may be a sub-par one for Maryland. Those doubts have reached the players and coaches, who are less than pleased with the preseason pessimism.
“[W]e keep hearing and reading about what we don’t have, and I don’t think that’s fair to the guys that are here because we do have some good players and we do have the potential to be a strong team, and I think it’s important that the kids here know that and know that we believe in them,” said Tillman, who is 35-14 as the Terps head coach. “We may face some different challenges, and we may not have the experience that other players on other teams do, but that doesn’t mean that we can’t be successful. It just means that what we have to focus on is going to be different. Our margin for error might not be as high, and we might not be able to rely on one player or just a few players. We’re really going to have to rely on each other, but I think that’s what makes a team great.”
Asked if the scrutiny has placed a chip on the players’ shoulders, Tillman replied, “Like anybody, I think our kids are prideful. They’ve played a lot of lacrosse, and I think it means a lot to them. When people start telling you what you’re not or you feel slighted, I think you can use that as strong motivation. And we’ve heard that a lot, what we are not. As I’ve told our guys, we haven’t even played a game yet. So we’re going to be the ones that write the chapter, and we’re going to do that all season long. I know a lot of people doubt us, but the key for our team is we’re the ones that can control what we can control.”
With 14 freshmen and 13 sophomores on the team’s 49-player roster, duplicating the 2011 and 2012 runs to the NC AA tournament final might seem an unlikely proposition for a school that has not captured a national championship since 1975. But despite Maryland’s youth, Tillman said he is not inclined to lower his ambitions this season.
“We’ll never lower the standard here,” he said. “I think this is a place that always has high expectations. The people really care about lacrosse here, it’s important to our state, it’s important to our school, it’s important to our alum, and it’s important to our players, and that’s part of why you come to place like Maryland. … The expectations are really high and that’s something that the kids are excited about. But if you get too caught up in what’s happening in the end, then you’re going to miss out on all of those things that you can control and address to put yourself in a position to get what you want at the end.”