COLLEGE PARK — Last month, Maryland coach John Tillman approached senior Michael Ehrhardt with a daunting proposition: Switch to a position he had never played and succeed a first-team All-American and Atlantic Coast Conference Co-Defensive Player of the Year.
Rather than balk at the suggestion, Ehrhardt agreed to shift from close defense to long-stick midfielder, and he did so with little hesitation.
“I just want to do anything to help these guys win,” he said after the No. 11 Terps had dusted UMBC, 14-3, at Byrd Stadium on Saturday. “If they want me to do something, I’ll listen to whatever they say. Hopefully, I’ll just keep getting better, and as a team, we’ll keep getting better, and we just move on from there.”
In two games, Ehrhardt has played like a natural at long pole. He recorded three ground balls and three caused turnovers in Maryland’s 16-3 demolition of Mount St. Mary’s on Feb. 8 and added six ground balls and three more caused turnovers against the Retrievers.
Ehrhardt was also the primary defender on UMBC sophomore midfielder and America East Rookie of the Year Pat Young. Young had one goal and one assist, but he took nine shots and was otherwise not much of a threat.
Ehrhardt, a second-team All-American on close defense last year, has benefited from the presence of the player he replaced. Jesse Bernhardt, widely regarded as one of the best long poles in the game, returned to Maryland in the offseason as a volunteer assistant coach.
Tillman said Bernhardt has worked closely with Ehrhardt to accelerate his transition to the new role.
“I can’t believe there are too many better defensemen in the world right now than Jesse Bernhardt, and I think one of the things that Michael was excited about was when Jesse came back,” Tillman said. “He could just study film with him, talk to him about the position better because this is his first year. Jesse has been tremendous, and I think Michael would tell you that.”
Said Ehrhardt: “It’s been a lot easier with Jesse around. He’s been there to help me out. But any guy on our team could make that switch. The coaches put us in good positions. They’ve taught us all the right things.”
The 6-foot-5, 210-pound Ehrhardt may not be as offensively gifted as the 6-1, 200-pound Bernhardt — he had 11 goals and eight assists over his college career — but Ehrhardt can overpower opposing midfielders with his brute strength.
“Mike’s just a little bit longer and physical,” senior goalkeeper Niko Amato said. “I think he does some similar things as Jesse. He likes to leak out, and I’m going to be looking for him" on outlet passes.
Ehrhardt knows the comparisons to Bernhardt are inevitable. But he insisted that there are no expectations that he play or produce the way his predecessor, and now coach, did.
“Out here, it’s the next guy up,” Ehrhardt said. “No matter who it is, we just fill that role. Say someone goes down — the next guy behind him is up and is expected to play at the standard that we’ve set here.”
*In just two games, Matt Rambo is already reminding Maryland fans of some of their more celebrated recent players. After registering four goals and two assists against the Mountaineers and three goals against UMBC, the attackman became the first freshman since Travis Reed in 2008 to score at least three goals in back-to-back games. Rambo also became the first rookie to score three goals in the first two games of his career since Grant Catalino in 2008. The relative ease at which he is producing for the Terps has stunned even Rambo. “No, I didn’t expect this,” said Rambo, who leads the team in goals with seven and is tied with senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk for the lead in points with nine. “But with all of the older guys and even [midfielder] Connor [Cannizzaro] as a freshman going out and pulling all of the defensemen, I was just able to have an open shot twice on man-up. Chanenchuk was just pulling defensemen with his power shot. They’re all going to be looking at him and stepping to him. Other than that, I didn’t expect this at all. I’m just going to the right spots.”
*Tillman did not try to disguise his worry over UMBC senior faceoff specialist Phil Poe, who won 15 of 19 faceoffs in an 8-7 win over Maryland in 2012. But Poe did not face off against Charlie Raffa in that game, and the junior won 11 draws to Poe’s eight. “We have a lot of confidence in Charlie and our other guys, for that matter,” Tillman said. “We knew [Poe] was going to be a handful, which he certainly was, and it was back and forth, back and forth. Charlie just kind of hung in there and hung in there, and our wing guys — [junior long pole] Michael Bender did a really good job, Michael Ehrhardt was excellent, [senior short-stick defensive midfielder] Brian Cooper was very good and [freshman short-stick defensive midfielder] John Belz.”
*Freshman attackmen Colin Heacock and Tim Rotanz did not play for the second consecutive game, but Tillman said Heacock (Boys’ Latin) is on the brink of returning, possibly as early as Saturday’s road game against No. 2 Syracuse. “I’ve got to think that Colin will be back full-go,” Tillman said. “He did some stuff this week. I’d be shocked if he wasn’t out on the field Monday.” The outlook is not quite as optimistic for Rotanz, though. “He’s made progress,” Tillman said. “He’s been out there. I feel like Colin’s a little bit ahead of him. Monday will be a big evaluation day for [Rotanz]. We’re hoping he’s back by Saturday. I’m much more optimistic about Colin right now based on what I’ve heard.”
*One of the few bright spots for the Retrievers was the play of redshirt freshman Connor Gordon. Gordon, who tore his anterior cruciate ligament on the third day of fall ball in 2012, made a game-high 15 saves, several of them of the point-blank variety. He did enough to impress coach Don Zimmerman. “I thought he played very well,” Zimmerman said. “It’s his first college start. Maryland can shoot the ball. He made some terrific saves. We cleared the ball well. That was one thing we were concerned about, is how we could clear against this Maryland team, and I thought we cleared the ball very well.” Zimmerman cautioned against trying to interpret too much from his decision to pull Gordon for freshman Ruston Souder (Cheasapeake-AA) in the final five minutes of regulation. “We pulled him out just to give Ruston Souder a little bit of game time, and Connor Gordon is definitely our starter for next week,” Zimmerman said.