Thursday's entry is the seventh 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 scheduled to be published on Friday, Feb. 5. Wednesday's visit was with Johns Hopkins. This is Maryland's turn.
Overview: After a 12-1 start, the Terps absorbed losses to Johns Hopkins in the regular-season finale and Ohio State in the semifinals of the Big Ten tournament. The team rebounded quickly to advance to the NCAA tournament final, but ran out of steam in a 10-5 setback to Denver. The program could take some solace in reaching the title game, but is now 0-8 in the tournament final since capturing its second and last national championship in 1975. Is a fourth appearance in coach John Tillman's six-year tenure in the works?
Reason for optimism: Maryland, which led Division I in defense last spring, should be able to rely on that unit again.
A defense that gave up just 7.1 goals per game returns redshirt senior goalkeeper and first-team All American Kyle Bernlohr (6.95 goals-against average and .571 save percentage), senior defenseman and Major League Lacrosse first-round draft pick Matt Dunn (13 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers) and junior defenseman Mac Pons (4 GB, 8 CT).
The unit will miss recent graduate and first-team All-American defenseman Casey Ikeda (29 GB, 18 CT) and sophomore long-stick midfielder Matt Neufeldt (57 GB, 21 CT), who will sit out the season with a torn ACL. But Tillman said redshirt senior Greg Danseglio, senior Mike McCarney, junior Tim Muller, sophomore Bryce Young and redshirt freshman Nick Brozowski provide a variety of options at close defense and long-stick midfield.
"I think you can look at Greg and Timmy Muller and Mike McCarney, and those are three guys that can pretty much play both," Tillman said. "What we're trying to get a feel for right now is, are we better with those guys playing up top or down low? Or do we do some sort of rotation where they do a little of each? Bryce Young's another guy that will play this year. He'll slide in there. And Nick Brozowski's another guy who has done a nice job so far. … Having flexible parts will certainly help us with our rotation."
Reason for pessimism: Charlie Raffa was not a starter, but the faceoff specialist's graduation could have the most pronounced effect on the Terps.
Despite an injury-plagued 2015, Raffa won 57.9 percent (125 of 216) of his draws, and Tillman conceded that the team looked and played differently when he was on the field. His departure opens the door for junior Jon Garino Jr. (49.6 percent on 63-for-127), sophomore Andrew Walsh (38.6 percent on 17-for-44) and freshman Austin Henningsen to vie for the role, but Tillman can envision a collective effort on faceoffs.
"I think for those guys, this is their opportunity," he said. "Being more consistent and taking advantage of this opportunity is going to be really critical. I don't see anybody being Charlie right now. I think it's going to have to be a by-committee group with everybody being ready, and sometimes it might boil down to our opponent."
Keep an eye on: Despite the arrival of senior midfielder Pat Young and his 29 points from UMBC, he is not a lock to join seniors Bryan Cole (17 G, 22 A) and Henry West (20 G, 7 A) on the first line.
Maryland struggled to get consistent production from its second line last season, and putting Young on that group could make the offense more dangerous. Juniors Colin Heacock (18 G, 3 A) and Ben Chisolm (1 G) and sophomore Connor Kelly (5 G, 3 A) are just a few candidates who could fill out both midfield lines.
"We're more concerned with chemistry with those guys than anything else," Tillman said. "We're trying to get more out of our second midfield. We felt that last year, we had to really rely on that first midfield too much, and part of it was we weren't getting a lot out of the second midfield. So that put a lot of pressure and a lot of stress and wear and tear on that first group. So what we're trying to do right now is not necessarily look at who are the three best middies, but which guys play the best together in the first group and the second group, and we're still tinkering with that."
What he said: No matter who fills out the midfield lines, the Terps should have a veteran core on offense.
Juniors Matt Rambo (40 G, 19 A) and Dylan Maltz (11 G, 5 A) return as starters on attack, and Cole, West and Heacock lead the midfield. The team can plug the rest of the holes with younger talent, but there's some assurance for Tillman in knowing that he can count on the experienced leaders to set the tone on that side of the field.
"Having a veteran group down on offense certainly helps," he said. "You've got guys like Matt and Colin and Henry that have been playing for three years. Bryan Cole's been playing for a while, and Dylan Maltz has been playing for some time. So you have a veteran group of guys out there. We don't have everyone yet, but I think we have a pretty good feel for just being out on the field."