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Division I lacrosse preview for Maryland

Tuesday's entry is the last of a series taking a look at each of the seven Division I programs in this state according to their order of finish from last season. The Sun's men's lacrosse preview is slated to be published on Friday, Feb. 6. This is Maryland's turn.

Overview: The Terps went 11-3 in the regular season, earning the No. 7 seed in the NCAA tournament. Motivated by what they perceived as a snub for not drawing a better seed, they advanced to their third Final Four in the past four years as the lowest seed before falling to No. 6 seed Notre Dame in the national semifinals. It continued Maryland's national championship drought to 39 years, which remains as a blight among the players, coaches and alumni. The program shifts from the Atlantic Coast Conference to the Big Ten and will take another shot at what has been an elusive objective thus far.

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Reason for optimism: Graduations took a toll on attack and defense, but left the midfield largely intact.

The first line of seniors Joe LoCascio (20 goals and five assists) and Bryan Cole (5, 7) and junior Henry West (16, 8) is back. And the second line is a crowded affair with sophomores Colin Heacock (5, 4) and Tim Rotanz (3, 3), senior Bobby Gribbin, freshmen Connor Kelly, Adam DeMillo and Christian Zawadzki, and Providence transfer and sophomore Joe Fitzpatrick competing for playing time.

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"I think we're deeper than we've been," coach John Tillman said. "That group is a little bit older. … I think with this group, I don't think we have the big-name guys, but we might have more people we could play than in years past, and I think that could be a positive for us."

Reason for pessimism: The Terps averaged 11.4 goals last spring, but returning to that proficiency could be a difficult assignment.

The team graduated their top playmaker in attackman Mike Chanenchuk (36, 23) and sophomore attackman Connor Cannizzaro (26, 8) transferred to Denver. Add sophomore attackman Matt Rambo (30, 6) coming off an incident on Oct. 31 in which he was charged with first- and second-degree assault and malicious destruction of property, and the offense is facing some issues.

Senior Jay Carlson (26, 5), who lost his starting role to Cannizzaro, will likely regain his starter's status, and Syracuse transfer and sophomore Dylan Maltz could be the third starter. Juniors Dave Goodwin, Ian Robertson and Tyler Brooke also are vying for spots.

Whoever starts, Tillman said he does not expect anyone to direct the offense as Chanenchuk and Ryan Young did.

"I would say that right now, there won't be one guy to do that," he said. "I don't feel like we had that guy last year, and we probably haven't that guy since Ryan. I look at it as one of two ways. You're either going to have one guy who is your X guy who kind of controls the show or you're going to have multiple guys and in a way, you could say that one is better than the other. When you have one X guy and he's really good behind the goal, if you want to move that guy and put him in front of the goal, he's not as his best. I think with this group we have, we maybe don't have guys outstanding in one aspect, but I do think their skill sets are pretty diverse, which allows us to move then and put them in different spots that maybe makes us a little less predictable. … I think with these guys, maybe we can do more movement and more motion and exchange guys to force the defense to have to move and rotate, too."

Keep an eye on: Chanenchuk's graduation cut deep, but the same could be said for goalkeeper Niko Amato.

Amato was a four-year starter who could be counted on to anchor the defense. His departure has opened a void on that end of the field.

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A pair of transfers in redshirt junior Wes DiRito (UMBC) and freshman Conor Cunningham (Hofstra) have thrown their hats into the ring, but Tillman said senior Kyle Bernlohr and sophomore Dan Morris have been the more impressive candidates with the former taking the lead.

"I would say that coming out of the fall, I felt like Kyle was the guy," Tillman said. "At this point, I would say that Kyle is in the lead, but I think Danny is still in the running there because I think they're both competing hard. I think what we feel good about is the level they're playing at. They're doing a good job. We told them since Day One – and it goes for every position – that we can't expect somebody to all of a sudden be Michael Chanenchuk or expect the goalies to try to be Niko. They just need to be themselves and play as well as they can. Niko had to replace a really good guy in Brian Phipps and it took us until February to figure it out. … With Kyle, this is his fourth year here, and I think he feels pretty comfortable. He's been seeing high-level shots for four years. Danny went through a redshirt last year and a little bit of an adjustment, and I think he's starting to feel more comfortable. We changed some things with him mechanically."

What he said: Graduation not only sapped the program of some of their top players, but some of their most influential leaders.

Amato, Chanenchuk, long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt and short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Cooper were not shy about directing their teammates and raising expectations for themselves and others. Their departure has created a vacuum that some players are trying to fill, Tillman said.

"So now I think the big thing with this group is getting guys comfortable in those roles," he said. "Maybe it's a guy like Joe LoCascio or Henry West. Now they need to tell somebody where to go. … We have to get them comfortable day to day with just being leaders and feeling comfortable having that voice. Sometimes as a coach, you kind of take that for granted. Guys have to learn how to do that. We're trying to figure out this team's personality. There are certain things that we want as part of every Maryland team. It may not be that we have many loud guys on this team and the leadership may be spread wider than it has been in the past."


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