Here is the seventh and final 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. Monday’s visit was with Johns Hopkins. Tuesday’s visit is with Maryland.
The good: For the third time in four years under coach John Tillman, the Terps (13-4 overall and 4-1 in the Atlantic Coast Conference) advanced to the NCAA tournament semifinals. They also extended their streak of double-digit win seasons to 12, which is the longest active streak in Division I. The ending left a lot to be desired, but Tillman appreciated the effort the players and coaches put into the journey.
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“You’re always conflicted as a coach because you have some goals you’d like to achieve, and you’d like to achieve all of those goals,” Tillman said. “You also realize that getting to championship weekend is really difficult and getting there is not lost on myself or the coaches.”
**That the team played for a chance to advance to the title game was somewhat surprising when taking into account that the offense had graduated four starters and the defense had bade farewell to its starting first-team, All-American long-stick midfielder (Jesse Bernhardt) and an honorable-mention All-American short-stick defensive midfielder (Landon Carr). Picked to finish last in the ACC, Maryland shared the regular-season title with eventual national champion Duke and earned the top seed in the league tournament.
“We understood that we were ranked the way we were ranked because we had so many unknowns,” Tillman said. “I think people looked at the other teams we were playing and the other teams in our league, and they had more knowns and more returning players, and based on that, they made decisions that I can’t blame them for. … I think we realized that to be successful, we were going to have to work really hard. It wasn’t so much a slight. Everybody realized that we had a lot of unknowns and that we had to really work hard to maximize our potential and that if we could maximize our potential, we’d have a chance.”
**Except for senior attackman Mike Chanenchuk, the offense featured five new faces in the starting lineup. The lineup included two freshmen (attackmen Matt Rambo and Connor Cannizzaro) and one sophomore (midfielder Henry West), but Tillman said a unit that dealt with some growing pains played well enough to rank 18th in the country in scoring at 11.4 goals per game.
“Offensively, although we were inconsistent at times more than I think we would like, we understood that we had a lot of new parts down there and that lends itself to some inconsistency,” he said. “Yet, I think our guys played very unselfishly and played very hard. We just didn’t execute as well as we could have, and as coaches, we’ve got to do a better job of helping those guys going forward.”
The bad: Maryland’s hopes for its first national championship since 1975 crashed in an 11-6 loss to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament semifinals. So the drought continues for a storied program that is 9-16 in the Final Four since 1976.
“When you get that close and when you’re a competitive person, you’d love to get two more [wins] because you’ve gotten to that stage,” Tillman said. “I think we would have loved to have played better on Saturday. We just felt like we didn’t go out the way we would have liked to have gone out in terms of our execution.”
**En route to a 7-0 start, the offense averaged 13.1 goals and scored double digits in every game. Over the final 10 contests, the unit averaged 10.1 and was held to under 10 goals six times. Tillman said integrating new players to the schemes took some adjustment by the players and coaches alike.
“Offensively, we kind of knew what we wanted to do with that group,” he said. “It was just a matter of how quickly those guys would grow up. We really tried to get a feel for what those guys were best at, and we just had so many either freshmen of new players in different roles. It was a challenge constantly to put them in roles where we felt like they could be at their best.”
**The Terps’ top offensive reserve was junior attackman Jay Carlson, a St. Paul’s graduate who made nine starts and recorded 26 goals and five assists. But after Carlson, no other backup player scored more than six goals or finished with more than 12 points. The lack of production was especially noticeable in the second midfield, and Tillman acknowledged that the unit was at times hit-or-miss.
“With the second group, I though we had a number of different guys in there, and I think at times those guys did a good job and at other times, we were just a little inconsistent,” he said. “That’s usually what happens with younger players. When you have one young guy out there or a newer player out that, that’s one thing. When you have so many, I just think it’s hard on them, and it’s a challenge for them.”
Personnel changes: The offense’s inconsistencies might continue with the departure of Chanenchuk. Carlson figures to be the easiest option to join Rambo (30 G, 6 A) and Cannizzaro (26 G, 8 A) on the attack, but who is going to fill the playmaker role that Chanenchuk (36 G, 23 A) commanded? Tillman said that whoever is the answer to that question, he does not expect performances like the ones Chanenchuk forged this past season.
“We can’t hope that anybody does what Michael did,” Tillman said. “Michael had just a terrific senior year and did so much with his leadership – from managing the game to providing a spark offensively, his vision, his unselfishness, his ability to score goals. We’re hoping that collectively all of our younger guys get better to make up for the loss of Michael because I don’t think it would be fair for anybody to ask them to do what Michael did.”
**For the first time since 2010, the team must find a new man in the net as Niko Amato has exhausted his eligibility. Amato, who registered a 7.46 goals-against average and a .559 save percentage, became the first goalkeeper in the history of the ACC to be selected to the all-conference team for the fourth team and was named a first-team All-American. Tillman said at first blush, the competition appears to be a two-man race between junior Kyle Bernlohr and redshirt freshman Dan Morris.
“We have a lot of confidence in Kyle,” Tillman said. “He’s learned a lot from Niko, and I think he understands what we’re doing defensively. So coming out of Niko’s shadow will be a real nice opportunity for Kyle. Knowing that Niko’s gone, I think a lot of times when somebody exits, the guys behind them step up and step up even that much more. And Danny Morris, who redshirted this year, really improved during the year. I think there’s always an adjustment for college goalies, and there was a big difference between the fall and the spring for him. I think the game really slowed down for him. So we’re excited about what he can do.”
**The program will return its entire starting close defense, but graduated long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt (69 ground balls and 28 caused turnovers) and short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Cooper (42 GB, 17 CT). Freshman Mac Pons (Boys’ Latin), who backed up Ehrhardt, figures to be the primary candidate and could be pushed by junior Mike Bender and sophomore Mike McCarney. Freshmen Isaiah Davis Allen and John Belz (Calvert Hall) and sophomore Nick Manis (Severn) are in the rotation at short-stick defensive midfielder, but Tillman said he would like to cultivate more depth.
“I do feel like we want to try to play three poles and four short-sticks,” he said. “It’s hard for us to replace the experience, the toughness and the energy that Michael and Brian provided us. I don’t think two guys can do that, but I think collectively, we have guys that have a lot of potential and maybe they can work together to do that job.”
Forecast for 2015: Sunny. The 2014 campaign was supposed to be the one where Maryland dropped out of contention. But with a stalwart defense anchoring a precocious offense, the team broke free of preseason expectations and played on the final weekend of the season. Losing two starters in Chanenchuk and Amato and two defensive contributors in Ehrhardt and Cooper could have a significant impact. But the team has demonstrated that it has the ability to discover talent and harvest production from unexpected sources. Moving to the Big Ten to join a group that includes Johns Hopkins, Penn State and Ohio State might be considered hazardous to their health, but count on Maryland to be firmly in the mix next spring.