The buildup toward the Maryland men’s lacrosse program ending a 42-year drought and capturing an NCAA championship in 2017 was filled with endless questions, doubt and speculation. Playing out the following season had its own share of potholes and detours, according to coach John Tillman.
“Having to navigate a team that won a championship and all of the distractions and everything that comes with that, that was new for all of us, and that was something we had to all go through together,” he said. “That was a tricky thing to go through. We certainly weren’t complaining. We were obviously excited with the way 2017 ended, but we were concerned that there would be a hangover from what happened in 2017 and people would keep talking about 2017 when we really needed to focus on 2018. That was something that we really had to work at and stay on top of and prevent guys from falling into that trap of hearing how great they were in 2017 and not continuing to try to work and push themselves and grow to get ready for 2018. They are kids, and we’re all human, and when people are constantly honoring you, it feels pretty good. So going in and out of that 2017 moment and coming back to 2018 was definitely tricky for us. But all in all, I thought the guys did a pretty good job with that.”
Despite graduating stalwarts such as attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock (Boys’ Latin), defenseman Tim Muller and short-stick defensive midfielders Isaiah Davis-Allen and Nick Manis (Severn), the Terps were still flush with talent in midfielder Connor Kelly, sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt, junior defenseman Curtis Corley and goalkeeper Dan Morris.
The team did earn the No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and advance to its fifth straight Final Four and seventh in Tillman’s eight-year career in College Park before falling to No. 4 seed Duke, 13-8, in the semifinals. But the coach said the personnel losses actually made it easier for the coaches to grab the attention of the returning players.
“I just felt like it was easy for us to talk about the differences between 2017 and 2018 just because so many guys on that team were not with us,” he said. “So instead of constantly trying to go back to 2017, it was more like, ‘Listen, guys, we are a totally different team.’ Sure, we have a number of guys like Connor that are back, but the leadership of the group, stylistically how we’re playing, so many different guys in different roles, it was a new challenge, a new group, and we felt like we needed to not hang our hat on last year and that we had a lot to prove.”