Postscript from Cornell at Maryland

Maryland’s 2013 season could be compared to an exhilarating amusement-park ride that kept passengers highly entertained through the first half before sputtering out and leaving riders wanting more.

After back-to-back appearances in the national title game, the Terps fell well short of that goal this spring, falling to Cornell, 16-8, in the first round of the NCAA tournament Sunday.

With the loss, Maryland extended its national crown drought to 38 years. As frustrating as that is, however, coach John Tillman said the program will not lower the bar.

“Our expectations will always be the same,” he said. “We obviously hold ourselves to high standards and trying to win a national championship is always the goal – although it’s not really talked about too much. We talk about focusing on the process all the time. When you start talking about just the goal and you don’t do the things that it takes to get to that goal, then you’re wasting a lot of time. It’s the daily grind, it’s the process of being a great team, it’s the habits, the details that you create, and we – candidly – were very inconsistent on those things. There were times when we were really locked in and we were in a groove and things were great, and there were other times when we were inconsistent. Today is a day where a team like Cornell, if you’re not consistent and you have breakdowns, it can be the slightest breakdowns and it hurts you. Whether it’s backing up a shot or missing a ground ball or failing a clear or missing a feed, they’re going to make you pay. They hold you to those high standards. I think that’s something that – going forward – is something we’ve got to continue to improve upon.”

Despite earning the sixth seed in the tournament and earning the right to play host to the Big Red (13-3) at Byrd Stadium in College Park, Maryland’s recent troubles on offense cropped up again, and a resilient defense could not withstand the wave as it had admirably done so in the past.

The Terps had begun the season with so much promise, winning their first six contests – including upending reigning national champion Loyola, 12-10, on Feb. 23. A 10-8 setback to then-No. 10 North Carolina on March 23 hurt a little, but after victories over Virginia and Navy, Maryland appeared to be back on top.

The team, however, ended the regular season with a 2-2 record, including a 13-6 loss to the Cavaliers that bounced the top-seeded Terps from the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. And then came Sunday’s discouraging finish.

“We did have a good start, but I think Niko said it best in the beginning of the season,” senior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt said. “You don’t win championships in February or March. They’re won in May. So no matter how teams start out, you can always have that second season if you get into the tournament.”

Senior midfielder John Haus said the team’s belief in itself never wavered.

“I just think overall we knew we were a very good team from the first day we stepped onto campus this year,” he said. “We knew as long as we put that hard work in and just continued to get better each and every day that we could be very good. Obviously, today, Cornell was a little better than us. for us to lose this way, it does hurt, but at the same time, I told every single one of my seniors that I wouldn’t trade a second of these four years for anything else or any other program in the world.”

The reality that a senior class that had endured losses to Virginia in 2011 and Loyola in 2012 in the national title games hit home. Bernhardt, whose eyes were red, conceded that the ending was tough to bear.

“It’s obviously not an easy thing,” he said. “The past couple years, we’ve been fortunate to make it as far as we did, and going out like this is not a good feeling. But we wouldn’t trade any of it for a second, the four years that we’ve been here. … In no way does today define our class. I think we have a great group, and it’s a hard thing, but that pain will hopefully [and] eventually go away.”

Other notes:

*Among the myriad of factors that contributed to Maryland’s loss was an inability to consistently win faceoffs. With junior Doug Tesoriero winning 15-of-25 draws, the Big Red controlled 16-of-26 faceoffs and were able to turn back each Terp attempt at mounting a comeback. “Faceoffs really gave them an opportunity to always be in front,” Tillman noted. “We would kind of creep back and then they’d win some faceoffs and we just couldn’t get it caught up. I thought their faceoff guy did a great job today. He was on the whistle and doing a good job, and their wing play has been good all year. So whenever we could kind of get going, they would stem the tide a little bit.”

*The decision to replace sophomore defenseman Goran Murray with Bernhardt in the second half to guard Cornell’s Rob Pannell appeared to work marginally as the fifth-year senior attackman managed just two goals and one assist in the latter stage of the contest rather than the two-goal, two-assist effort in the first half. But Pannell acknowledged being surprised by the switch. “Bernhardt did a great job,” he said. “He’s a talented defenseman. He doesn’t get a lot of credit for no reason. Extremely talented and certainly gave me a little tougher time in the second half. Had to feel him out a little bit, what kind of defenseman he was. It’s different being guarded by a pole sometimes because they’re generally more athletic, and he’s certainly one of the best athletes in Division I lacrosse.”

*A.J. Fiore has been a lightning rod for the Big Red for his inconsistent play during his career, but the senior goalkeeper rose to the occasion, producing a game-best 12 saves – including seven in the second half. He stoned Maryland sophomore attackman Jay Carlson from the slot midway through the third quarter with Cornell nursing a 7-5 lead and earned the praise of coach Ben DeLuca. “He’s received a lot of criticism throughout the year and throughout his career, and he’s a guy that works incredibly hard,” DeLuca said. “The way he ended last year and went home and worked and committed to himself and to our teammates, he’s come back and done a great job. I think he was outstanding. He was the difference maker for us in a lot of key situations. He saw the ball very well and made a lot of saves that we wanted him to and hoped he would, and he stole a couple of others as well. I think that sparks our defense knowing that he’s on his game and is capable back there. That really helps our guys with their confidence. It’s a difference maker.”

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