Here is the sixth installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Friday’s visit was with Johns Hopkins. Monday’s visit is with Maryland.
The good: The Terps became the first unseeded team to reach the NCAA tournament final in back-to-back campaigns – a noteworthy achievement considering that last year’s squad graduated two starting attackmen and three starting defensemen and this spring’s team did not have the services of senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt (broken collarbone). “Getting to championship weekend, that accomplishment is certainly not lost on me, and having the University of Maryland be a part of the biggest lacrosse weekend of the year, it is pretty special,” said coach John Tillman, who is 25-10 in two seasons with the Terps. “I think it’s special for our school, I think it’s special for our alumni, and I think it’s special for our players to experience that. Obviously, we’re not totally satisfied, but sometimes you have to take a step back and to get back there again says a lot about the work that the coaches, staff, administration and players put forth to get us there.” … A unit that bid farewell to three starting close defensemen in Brett Schmidt, Max Schmidt (no relation to Brett) and Ryder Bohlander figured to be a weak point. But the play of sophomores Michael Ehrhardt and Brian Cooper and freshman Goran Murray helped the defense rank ninth in Division I after surrendering just 7.9 goals per game this spring. “At times, we were inconsistent, but that’s a byproduct of being so young,” Tillman said. “When we struggled, it was pretty apparent. Yet, when we were good, we thought we were rock solid with just about anybody, and a lot of that credit goes to the players who worked so hard every day in practice.” … Attackman Joe Cummings led the offense in scoring with 50 points on 31 goals and 19 assists, but eight other players registered at least 14 points, making the unit a diverse headache for opponents. “I think you always play to your strengths, and for us, we didn’t have one player that was going to be a first-team All American or a put-us-on-his-back type of guy,” Tillman said. “But I don’t want to slight our players. We did have a lot of confidence in our players, and we liked the players we have.”
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The bad: For all of the team’s postseason success, Maryland became the second team in NCAA history to fall in back-to-back title games and has dropped seven consecutive tournament finals since capturing the championship in 1975. “That was a pretty big accomplishment and yet it wasn’t quite where we want to get to,” Tillman said of returning to the title game. “We’ve got to look at every aspect of our program and see if there are ways we can improve to try to get back there and win it because those are the goals at the University of Maryland. Winning a championship is a goal every single year, and we’re not going to back off of that.” … As versatile as the offense was, the unit lacked a go-to dodger who could initiate the offense and force an opposing defense like Loyola’s to slide and potentially leave shooters open. Developing that type of player figures to be a priority during the offseason. “We just got to be more dynamic in terms of our dodging,” Tillman said after the 9-3 loss to the Greyhounds. “We’ve got to be better shooters. … I think it shows that offensively we’ve still got a ways to go.” … Niko Amato anchored the defense’s play, but the sophomore goalkeeper’s statistics dipped from last year (6.78 goals-against average and .583 save percentage in 2011 to 7.50 and .540, respectively, in 2012). Tillman refused to place any blame on Amato, but acknowledged that his goalie could have played better. “I think Niko’s not satisfied with his performance this year,” Tillman said. “I think he would be the first one to tell you that. I think he made some big saves for us and we certainly wouldn’t have been in the championship without him, but I think he’s critical enough of himself to know that he can play better.”
Personnel changes: The Terps graduate just two starters, but one is Cummings, the Towson native and Loyola graduate who paced the offense in both goals and points. Freshman Jay Carlson (12 goals and two assists) appears poised to join juniors Owen Blye and Billy Gribbin as starting attackmen. “I would hope that he [Carlson] will have a big impact for us next year, but we’ll have a number of guys competing for spots,” Tillman said. “Obviously, there are some other guys like [freshman] Kevin Forster who will vie for a starting spot on either attack or midfield along with a couple of other younger guys like [sophomores] Sean McGuire and Rustin Bryant. So I like the fact that we’re going to have more competition this fall than we’ve had in the last couple years in terms of earning spots.” … The other loss is midfielder Drew Snider (24, 7), but his absence could be offset by Bernhardt (14, 3 in 2011). If Bernhardt joins junior John Haus (16, 17) and redshirt sophomore Mike Chanenchuk (18, 7) as starters, junior Kevin Cooper figures to anchor the second line. Freshmen Kevin Forster (3, 1) and Joe LoCascio (3, 1) could join Cooper, but the competition is wide open. “In our meetings, we talked to a number of guys and said, ‘Hey, the opportunity is going to be there,’” Tillman said. “Kevin Forster did a nice job down the stretch, Joe LoCascio has done a good job. I think there are some other guys waiting in the wings that we’re excited about. We’ll have some young guys coming in. … I think a lot of it is going to be decided on what some of our guys do this summer.” … David Miller had the unenviable job as a short-stick defensive midfielder, but he stabilized the defensive midfield next to junior Landon Carr and junior long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt. There are a number of candidates to fill Miller’s role, but sophomore Greg D’Arienzo could have the inside track. “Greg made great strides,” Tillman said. “So we’re hoping that he continues to improve. He should be a guy that’s right in the mix and getting a lot of time. And then we’ll have to look and see who else will step up.”
Forecast for 2013: Sunny. If last year’s success was unexpected by many, imagine the shock as Maryland knocked off No. 7 seed Lehigh, No. 2 seed Johns Hopkins and No. 3 seed Duke in the NCAA tournament. Another run is not out of the realm of possibility as the program returns eight starters. Once a question mark, the defense should be the cornerstone of next season’s team as Murray has emerged as a shutdown defender and Bernhardt tries to repeat as the Atlantic Coast Conference’s Co-Defensive Player of the Year. Replacing Cummings and Snider are the biggest headlines in the offseason, but the Terps are well-loaded and will welcome three Under Armour All Americans in next year’s incoming freshman class. Maryland would appear to be well-positioned to challenge Duke, North Carolina and Virginia for the ACC regular-season and tournament championships.