Off to a 5-0 start, Maryland is the unanimous top-ranked team in Division I, leads the nation in offense with an average of 16 goals, and trails only Hofstra as the stingiest defense in the country after allowing just 6.8 goals per game.
But this season’s success – which includes a 12-10 defeat of reigning national champion Loyola, which knocked off the Terps in last year’s NCAA tournament final – could worm its way into the players’ egos, and coach John Tillman said during his weekly conference call Tuesday morning that tempering those expectations is a point of emphasis for the coaches and veteran leaders on the team.
“One of the things I saw working with young people is that success can be harder than failure because sometimes when you have failure, it’s that reality check and you’re forced to be sometimes maybe too critical of yourself and you go back and look at every aspect of your play and maybe too much so, and that can be something that’s helpful to get better,” Tillman said. “When you win, you might take some things for granted or just assume some things are going to happen, and that’s always a concern as a coach. You want your team to be confident, but you have to remind them constantly that each week is a new challenge, and every time you go out to play, you have to expect every team that you play against to play their best game and that you’re going to have to deal with some adversity one way or the other – if it’s going through an injury or not shooting well or the other team’s playing really well and you’ve got to be able to handle that. That’s something we talk about every week and to be honest with you, almost every day with our team.”
Sitting atop every ranking and poll means that Maryland is the most public of targets for the seven remaining opponents on the regular-season schedule. That reality helps keep the players in the right frame of mind, according to senior attackman Kevin Cooper.
“You know that every team wants to knock you off because you’ve played in the national championship last year,” he said after the Terps’ 13-7 victory over Stony Brook last Sunday. “We’ve played with the target and now the No. 1 [ranking]. We know we’re going to get everybody’s best game, and we kind of like that. It just prepares us. We know we’re going to have a battle every week.”
This past weekend, the Nos. 3 (Notre Dame), 4 (Loyola), 5 (Princeton) and 6 (Ohio State) teams in The Sun’s rankings fell victim to upsets, and those outcomes were pointed reminders of the volatility in college lacrosse.
“We pay attention to what’s going on with the other teams and stuff like that,” senior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt said Sunday. “In college lacrosse, anybody can win on any given day. But we tried not to focus on that too much. We tried to focus on ourselves.”
Maryland’s bid for perfection continues Saturday at Villanova (1-4), but Tillman said he’s not concerning himself with staying undefeated.
“It’s really about us pushing ourselves and challenging us and moving on from the week before and constantly trying to get better because the season is really a journey and we really have talked about focusing on the process of being a good team,” he said. “The process is one where you’ve just got to constantly push and challenge yourself and hold yourself to high standards, and our seniors have done a very good job of embracing that and delivering a very consistent parallel message that the coaches are providing.”