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Maryland men’s lacrosse players look to 'old' Dan Morris, Tim Rotanz for guidance

A recent interview with Dan Morris and Tim Rotanz was briefly interrupted by Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman, who joked that a dietary supplement intended for senior citizens would be ready for them afterward. Morris, who is 23 years old, and Rotanz, who is 22, are not old by many standards, but among their teammates, the fifth-year seniors are the elder statesmen.

“Being ‘an old guy’ is kind of weird because I feel like I was a young guy not that long ago,” Morris said. “But I think it’s cool to help the young guys. We have almost five years under our belts now, and we can help them with different things now.”

Morris, the starting goalkeeper, turns 24 next month. But with a full beard and black-framed eyeglasses, Rotanz — a starting midfielder — has earned the nickname “The Professor” from the team’s student section.

The only players left over from the freshman class of 2014, they are trying to help the top-seeded Terps (12-3) become the first team in program history to capture back-to-back NCAA Division I championships – a task that begins with a first-round game against Robert Morris (13-4) on Sunday at noon at Maryland Stadium.

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said the team’s veteran leadership, as partly embodied by Morris and Rotanz, is invaluable.

“Experience and winning big games are gigantic in the month of May,” the former Johns Hopkins goalie said. “That’s one thing that Maryland has now. This whole team has been to championship weekend, and three-quarters of the team has a championship ring. So they know what these games are going to be like, and they know how to prepare.”

Morris and Rotanz did not envision spending almost five years on campus. But Morris did not play a single game as a freshman, and Rotanz successfully applied for a medical redshirt after overcoming a bout with vertigo that kept him from playing as a sophomore.

They have made good use of their time in school. Morris has a bachelor’s degree in psychology and will have a master’s in business in the fall after navigating the school’s one-year MBA program. Rotanz has a bachelor’s in criminal justice and criminology and will complete a second bachelor’s in sociology.

In their first years as full-time starters last spring, the duo played critical roles in the Terps’ 9-6 victory over Ohio State in the national championship game. Rotanz led all scorers with three goals, and Morris made 11 saves.

Last season, attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock, defenseman Tim Muller and short-stick defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen were the ones in leadership positions. This spring, midfielder Connor Kelly and defenseman Bryce Young have emerged as the vocal leaders, while Rotanz and Morris have been sounding boards for their younger teammates.

“For me, I just try to keep guys calm,” Rotanz said. “Young guys, inexperienced guys, they kind of let the moment get to them a little bit, and I just know that pregame, I try to settle the nerves by joking around but also staying focused.”

Sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt said Morris and Rotanz choose their words wisely.

“And I don’t think that’s a bad thing either,” he said. “I think when the moments are big, they’ll huddle the guys together, and they’ll let them know what’s going on and what needs to happen in order to come out with the win.”

Morris and Rotanz have been roommates in an off-campus apartment since 2015, often eating dinner together while watching the TV show “Impractical Jokers” and then playing video games. That year is also cited by them as the turning point in their playing careers because they were able to spend time together on the practice field while Rotanz missed that season because of vertigo and Morris was entrenched as Kyle Bernlohr’s backup.

“Because Tim wasn’t playing, Tim basically just shot on the goalies every practice,” Morris said. “Having Tim shoot on me and then talking to him about what shooters are looking for and how he’s releasing it and why he’s releasing it and what he’s seeing when I’m in a certain place, that helped me a ton with just my ability to play goalie. I think that year was huge.”

Said Rotanz: “He would talk to me about what he was trying to take away. So he would talk about reading my shoulders, reading my [stick’s] butt end, watching my hips, how I’m releasing the ball, and how he could get a jump on shots. It actually came in handy because I would work on trying to hide my stick and mess with my shoulders to create some deception.”

As much as Tillman has poked fun at Morris and Rotanz for their extended stay on campus, he has grown to appreciate their demeanor.

“Those guys are as steady as it gets,” he said. “And I tease them for being the old men, but I have great respect and admiration for those two guys. We’re very lucky to have them back for fifth years. … They’re guys that set such a good standard with what they do more than what they say.”

Rotanz and Morris have had their share of “back in my day” moments with younger teammates. When they have whined about soreness after practices, Rotanz – who has battled a minimum of three injuries every season – chides them, “Tell me about it in five years.” When a teammate complained about the team-issued shorts, Morris related a story in which he had to wear a pair of shorts torn by a shot from former midfielder Mike Chanenchuk for the entire 2014 season because there were no more in storage.

Morris and Rotanz acknowledged there was a tinge of regret that they did not graduate with last year’s senior class, especially after winning the title. But that has also served as motivation for the pair.

“Seeing them celebrate and go off with a win is something we strive for,” Rotanz said. “I don’t think Dan and me want to be the guys from that class that don’t end with a win.”

The end to their careers is approaching, but neither player is ready to leave early. Morris recounted a scene after Maryland’s overtime loss to North Carolina in the 2016 championship game in which former defenseman Ryan Lehman refused to remove his jersey, shorts or any piece of equipment for two hours.

“It’s basically stalling and prolonging our careers because we’ve been Terps for five years now, and I don’t really remember a time when we were anything different,” Morris said. “I don’t want it to end. I want it to keep playing as long as I can in a Maryland uniform.”

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