Here is the fifth 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 UMBC. Monday’s visit is with Maryland.
The good: The Terps secured their 11th consecutive season of at least 10 wins – the longest current active streak among any Division I program. And the team captured its first Atlantic Coast Conference regular-season title and beat two league rivals for the first time since 2009. “Winning 10 games in Division I lacrosse is definitely a challenge,” coach John Tillman said. “Being able to do that is an accomplishment for the guys. Also being the regular-season ACC co-champs and winning two games in the regular season is something we haven’t done in a while. We’d obviously love to win all the games there, but being regular-season co-champions is something we had not done. Those were some accomplishments that I think our guys can take away from the year. We played what we had thought going into the season was a very challenging schedule. It obviously didn’t finish the way we had wanted it to, but I think all in all, those are things we can build upon.” … For the second straight year, the defense finished the spring ranked ninth in the country, allowing just 8.2 goals per game. Anchored by the play of redshirt junior goalkeeper and second-team All American Niko Amato (7.98 goals-against average and .594 save percentage), the unit proved to be the foundation of the team. “This was probably the most consistently we played defense in my three years here,” Tillman said. “I think part of it goes with Niko. He did such a good job, and having some veteran guys down there with good leadership from [junior defenseman] Michael [Ehrhardt] and [senior long-stick midfielder] Jesse [Bernhardt], but also the emergence of [junior defenseman] Casey Ikeda and [freshman defenseman] Matt Dunn. We got some really good contributions. [Junior] Brian Cooper switching positions [from defenseman to short-stick defensive midfielder] helped us. I think those guys will be guys that we definitely lean on next year as we go forward.” … For the first time since attackman Joe Walters and midfielder Bill McGlone in 2006, the program boasted a pair of first-team All Americans in Bernhardt and senior midfielder John Haus. Bernhardt recorded four goals, three assists, 59 ground balls and 25 caused turnovers, while Haus posted 18 goals and 10 assists. “Both of those guys have done such a good job for us for a long time,” Tillman said. “We’ve asked a lot of those guys, and they’ve always come through for us. So I’m not surprised at the year that they had. We see that every day. We certainly didn’t take those guys for granted. We appreciated everything that they did – not only their play, but also their leadership.”
The bad: After marching to back-to-back title games, Maryland fell well short of that stage, losing, 16-8, to an unseeded Cornell team that advanced to the Final Four. So the championship drought – the program has not won a NCAA crown since 1975 – continues for at least another year. “The way we finished was certainly something that we were not excited about,” Tillman said. “At a place like Maryland, you have high goals and the kids have big dreams. So you’re trying to hold yourself to a high standard there, but you realize how difficult those things are.” … After averaging 15 goals through a 6-0 start, the offense scored just 10.3 goals in the final seven contests. Tillman said he did not think that the source of the unit’s troubles could be traced to one player or issue. “I think it’s a combination of a lot of things,” he said. “You can’t just put it on one thing. Sometimes that’s what we’d like to do, but I think it was a number of different things. We didn’t win as many faceoffs, we didn’t create as much transition, we didn’t shoot as well, we didn’t execute at a high level, and there were a lot of turnovers. I think there were a lot of things and those are things we have to go back through the film and ask how we can do those things better.” … Senior attackman Kevin Cooper led the offense in assists (22) and points (42), and redshirt junior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk scored a team-best 23 goals, but the Terps lacked an initiator who could break down opposing defenses and create opportunities for others. But Tillman pointed out that developing that type of player is no easy task. “I think those guys are hard to come by,” he said. “[Former Cornell attackman] Rob Pannell and [Duke junior attackman Jordan] Wolf and those guys are very dynamic players, and they’re hard guys to find. We kind of look at it as we may not have one guy, but we feel like if everybody plays together and everybody plays unselfishly and everybody plays fast and makes smart decisions, the sum of the parts can hopefully be pretty successful for us.”
Personnel changes: Maryland graduates Cooper and Owen Blye (22 goals and eight assists) from the starting attack. Sophomore Jay Carlson (20, 2) should return, but he is more of a finisher than a feeder. Freshman David Goodwin, the fourth attackman, could slide into a starting role, and Chanenchuk and freshman Bradlee Lord are also potential candidates. Either way, plugging those holes could be difficult. “We obviously have to have some guys step up for us next year,” Tillman said. “We need to have some new guys emerge and have some guys develop over the summer. But it is an area that we’ve got to address.” … There is a plethora of options for replacing Haus and Jake Bernhardt (17, 7) in the midfield. If Chanenchuk stays in the midfield, sophomore Joe LoCascio (7, 4) figures to be a solid candidate. Three other players who could compete for more playing times are sophomores Bobby Gribbin, Brian Cole and Kevin Forster. “Bobby Gribbin was a guy who was getting pretty close in practice for us and was a guy we were certainly excited about,” Tillman said. “He was close, but not quite there. We’d like to see him be a little more consistent. Brian Cole was a guy that we would love to be healthy. He hasn’t been healthy in his first two years, but that’s a guy we’d like to see step up and do some really good things for us. Kevin Forster was out for most of the year with an injury, and that’s a guy that I’m hopeful can come back and give us something. He was a key component for us in 2012 when he scored two goals against Duke in the semis. So he’s a guy we really missed.” … Blessed with some of the top long-stick midfielders in the sport like Brett Harper and Brian Farrell, the Terps must now find a successor to Jesse Bernhardt, who may have been the best to play that position at the school. Tillman said asking one player to fill Bernhardt’s shoes may not be possible. “We have some guys we’ve been looking at,” Tillman said. “Do we try to put somebody in a different position – someone like [sophomore defenseman] Goran Murray or Michael Ehrhardt? Michael did some of that this year. So we look at Brian Cooper? Could he go back and play long stick again? He’s an option. We have some guys that have been waiting for their opportunity. So we’ll see how those guys develop. [Junior defenseman] Emmett Cahill missed the season due to an injury. So hopefully, he’ll be back and he can maybe give us something as well. So I’m not sure we know conclusively who’s going to be that pole. To expect anybody to do as well as Jesse did would be a little bit unfair. So collectively, we’re just going to have to do a good job.”
Forecast for 2013: Partly cloudy. If there ever was a year when Maryland was poised to run the table, it was the 2013 campaign when the team boasted the return of eight starters from last season’s squad that advanced to the title game. But after a torrid 6-0 start, the offense and faceoff wins evaporated, and the defense was unable to withstand the pressure. With four starters on offense leaving last month, scoring goals could again be a troublesome matter. The defense should be the foundation courtesy of the return of the starting defense and Amato. But will the graduation of Bernhardt force the coaches to move some pieces around and perhaps disrupt the chemistry developed on that end of the field? The incoming freshman class boasts six Under Armour All Americans, but with Syracuse and Notre Dame joining the ACC next spring, extending the program’s streak of consecutive seasons with at least 10 wins to 12 may no longer be a given as it once was.