Niko Amato tried his best to downplay the importance of No. 6 Maryland’s 8-7 decision against No. 14 Yale at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday. But even the redshirt junior goalkeeper acknowledged that the Terps may have been fortunate to emerge with the victory.
“It’s just another steppingstone for us,” he began. “Yale’s a Top 10 team and a really good opponent, and we haven’t really seen much of them before this year. I thought we could’ve played better and to come out with a win is always good when you didn’t play your best game.”
Maryland should have plenty of material to review this week as the team prepares to meet No. 19 Virginia in one semifinal of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. From offensive futility to turnovers to faceoffs losses, the players and coaches won’t lack for points of emphasis during practice.
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But by improving to 9-2, the Terps enhanced their profile for the NCAA tournament. They added another top-20 RPI win to a resume that already includes No. 7 Duke, No. 10 Loyola and No. 20 Villanova. (Yale was No. 12 in the most recent list released by the NCAA last Tuesday.)
And they rebounded from last Saturday’s 7-4 setback to Johns Hopkins and avoided their third loss in the last five contests.
Maryland coach John Tillman was grateful for the win, but also noted that his team’s spots were exposed by the Bulldogs.
“It’s good news-bad news,” he said. “Even if we had lost this game, our approach as a staff never changes. We look at the film, and we look at every way that we can get better – whether it’s decision making or the schemes that we’re running or the personnel or what could we have done better so that we’re constantly putting our best foot forward late in the season. A lot of times, it does take playing somebody else to figure out, ‘OK, this is what people are going to do against us.’ Or ‘Hey, we need to play this guy more.’ That’s the beauty of the season. The problem is, if you have a game like this and you don’t win, your back is to the wall a little bit and maybe there is no chance at the postseason. I would just like to see us play with more poise and discipline for 60 minutes. I think our kids care. They have a lot of pride, and they play hard. We just need to play smarter and make better decisions at key moments. If we can do that, that will really help us. That’s a big if and it’s something as coaches that we need to do a better job of holding guys accountable and having the older players really set an example.”
Rather than heading into the ACC tournament on the heels of back-to-back losses, the Terps have gained back a little momentum. But Amato said that was of little consequence to the players.
“I’m not really sure if we thought about it like that,” he said. “We didn’t really think about the ACC tournament. We just focused on Yale and at this stage of the year in April, you want to be playing good lacrosse. It’s always good to get a win. So that’s what we were thinking about today.”
*The offense continues to be a concern. Senior midfielder John Haus did not record a point for the second consecutive game, senior attackman Kevin Cooper did not score a goal in back-to-back contests (although he did have two assists Saturday), and fifth-year senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt has posted two goals and one assist in his last four games. On Saturday, Maryland did not have many opportunities as Yale (8-4) dominated faceoffs and appeared to win the time-of-possession battle, but redshirt junior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk said the offense tried to remain patient as the team improved to 2-2 when scoring fewer than 10 goals in a game. “Defenses are starting to adjust to our schemes, and we are trying to mix it up and adjust to that,” said Chanenchuk, who tied senior attackman Owen Blye with a game-best four points on three goals and one assist against the Bulldogs. “This week in practice, we focused a lot just on us. we did a pretty good job today with the flow of the offense. But throughout the game, we didn’t have as many possessions as in past games.”
*The Terps’ struggles on faceoffs are also a lingering issue. Sophomore Charlie Raffa took all 17 faceoffs against Yale, winning just six, and the team has not eclipsed the 50 percent mark in five of its last six contests. “I’m always concerned about that,” Tillman said of the team’s recent troubles on draws. “… Their guy [junior Dylan Levings] is 63 percent. So he was pretty much what he’s been all year. So we’ve just got to keep working at it. We have two really good guys, and Charlie did a pretty good job. He did what we asked him to. We were concerned about him going early, and last week, we got called for that. Now we’re trying to emphasize being whistle-ready but not going early. I felt like this week, that may have hurt us a little bit.”
*Maryland was a little generous with the ball Saturday, committing 17 turnovers to just 10 for the Bulldogs. One of those gaffes contributed to Yale’s seventh goal of the game with 12:06 left in the fourth quarter when Haus inexplicably whiffed on catching a pass just inside the restraining line. Senior defenseman Michael McCormack hunted down the ground ball, carried it into transition, and passed to junior attackman Brandon Mangan, who fired it past Amato. Tillman said the team needs to value the ball. “To go where we want to go, we have to play fast, we need to play at a real high pace, but yet think slowly,” he said. “We just make some really poor decisions, a little bit undisciplined. I need to do a better job of emphasizing those things so that we can make people earn stops instead of giving people quick restarts or getting possessions back.”