Postscript from North Carolina at Maryland

All is not lost at Maryland. At least that’s what the top-ranked Terps are saying after absorbing their first loss of the season via a 10-8 upset by No. 10 North Carolina Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

Maryland’s first setback was compounded by questionable shot selection, an exposed defense, and an unusual case of nerves as the Tar Heels built a convincing advantage and then withstood an attempted comeback. Redshirt junior goalkeeper Niko Amato said the loss would give the players an opportunity to do a little soul-searching.

“I think it was a little bit of a gut check,” he said. “We made a lot of progress from the beginning of the year, but I think people started to lose a little bit of that edge. The film’s not going to lie. We’re going to see things offensively, defensively, special teams that we can improve upon. We’re not perfect. We haven’t played one perfect game this year, and that’s good for us because that means we can still get better.”

The setback will cost the Terps (6-1) the top spot in many polls and rankings, but that was of little importance to fifth-year senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt.

“No offense, but that’s what you guys do,” he said of assigning a No. 1 ranking. “We’re just playing the game. We don’t really care.”

It may have been too much to expect Maryland to compile a perfect record this season. The last program to finish a campaign without a loss was Virginia (17-0) in 2006.

But coach John Tillman said winning every game was never a priority for the Terps.

“The season is a grind. You go through a lot of ups and downs,” he said. “You know you’re not going to play your A game every single week. It’s your goal, but over the course of the season, there are times when it’s hard. You don’t have the magic, things are a little bit tougher, and a lot of times that happens against really good opponents like Carolina. So you’ve got to kind of grind your way through it.”

So Maryland will return to the drawing board with a Saturday date against the No. 13 Cavaliers – who fell to 5-4 after suffering a 15-8 drubbing by No. 12 Johns Hopkins at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium on Saturday – in Charlottesville, Va. But Amato vowed that the loss to North Carolina would not negatively impact the team.

“We’re obviously pissed that we lost, especially to an ACC opponent. But as important as this game was, it doesn’t make or break our season,” he said. “We’re probably going to see them down the road. Right now, we’re got a Virginia team next week that we have to go down there and we’re either going to go up or down from that game. So we’re trying to move past this loss. It’s sucks, but what we’ve got to do right now is start focusing on the next game.”

Other notes:

* Perhaps one silver lining from the loss is that the Terps won’t have to deal with questions about remaining undefeated. But that’s not a stance that Tillman particularly agreed with. “No. I’d never say that,” he said with a slight smile. “I understand what you’re saying. But I’d rather win and have some teachable moments than force the loss to be able to reinforce some things. As coaches, we don’t ever talk about where we’re ranked and we don’t really talk about if we’re undefeated or not. … We don’t really define ourselves other than what we see and what we need to work on. The season is long, and by the end of it, you hope you have a good sense of where you are, what your parts are, what you’re good at, and you hope you’re playing your best at the end. But all the while, you’re trying to win every game.”

* Maryland’s offense produced two goals in the first 5 minutes, 30 seconds of the first quarter, but then went 33:16 without scoring the team’s third goal. Tillman said the unit could learn from how the Tar Heels (5-3) ran their offense Saturday. “I really felt like what we needed to do a better job of was have more poise and have a little more patience on offense,” he said. “I thought they did a real nice job of spinning the ball and waiting for the best available shot, and we need to do a better job of that. We talked about that at halftime. It’s not going to come right away, and we can’t muscle it. We’ve got to be patient, let it come a little bit more, and play out of the flow. We can’t be a one-dodge team. Sometimes when you press a little harder, you just get away from what you like to do.”

* Part of the Terps’ futility on offense had to do with the play of North Carolina goalkeeper Kieran Burke. The freshman tied a career best with 15 saves – the same number he put up in a 10-9 triple-overtime loss to Notre Dame on March 2 – and further cemented his status as the team’s undisputed starter. “He’s good all over. That’s why he earned the starting job,” coach Joe Breschi said. “He’s a fantastic goalie. He’s had some ebbs and flows a little bit this year. You’re asking him to come in and play the schedule that we have. He’s had some peaks and very few valleys, but I think he played great up at Notre Dame in a triple-overtime loss and had 15 saves there. He really commanded the defense. I think he’s getting more comfortable with the guys in front of him. It’s him who we rely on to run the defensive end of the field.”

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