Review & preview: Maryland men's lacrosse

Here is the seventh and final installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to give a glimpse into the past and the future. Teams are scheduled to appear according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Monday's visit was with Johns Hopkins. Tuesday's visit is with Maryland.



The good: This spring was a campaign to remember for the Terps. Their 15 victories were the most in a season in the program's long history, and their 11-game winning streak was their longest since a 12-win run to open 1987. They captured a share of the Big Ten Conference regular-season championship in their debut. And they advanced to their third NCAA Division I tournament final in coach John Tillman's five-year tenure.

"Certainly there were some ups and downs, but overall to get back to championship weekend and to be the first team to clinch the Big Ten championship was something that was exciting for us," Tillman said. "To get to the championship game was an accomplishment for our guys. It was disappointing at the very end, but when you look back and realize how hard it is to get there, you realize the kids accomplished a lot. We had our share of ups and downs during the year, but the kids really stuck together and put together a really solid run at the end of it."

**The 2014 team ranked third in the country after allowing just 7.2 goals per game despite graduating first-team All-American long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt and honorable-mention All-American short-stick defensive midfielders Landon Carr. And although this year's squad lost three first-team All Americans in goalkeeper Niko Amato, long-stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt and defenseman Goran Murray, the defense led the nation after surrendering just 7.1 goals per game. The unit's play was a welcomed development for Tillman and defensive coordinator Kevin Conry.

"I think Coach Conry deserves a lot of credit for that," Tillman said. "He does a great job with our defense, and I thought those guys did a great job of maximizing how we play together. Losing some big names off that defense last year, there were a lot of individual parts that had left, but we really just focus on our system and guys buying into the system. We have some very talented but unselfish guys that really were trying to do what the system needed and what the team needed. I give our kids a lot of credit for that. I thought they played like a unit and had each other's back."

**Despite the losses on defense, Maryland was well-represented in the All-American selections. Redshirt junior goalie Kyle Bernlohr and senior defenseman Casey Ikeda were named to the first team, and junior defenseman Matt Dunn was voted to the third team. But Tillman was more impressed by the leadership from the players on that end of the field.

"I thought Kyle did a great job and worked really hard and certainly earned everything that he got, and I'm proud of him for that because it wasn't easy for him," he said. "Leadership-wise, I look at what Matt Dunn and Casey Ikeda and [sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder] Isaiah Davis-Allen did as being really impressive in terms of holding down that unit and making the guys around them better. [Sophomore defenseman] Mac Pons came in and did a great job as did [sophomore long-stick midfielder] Timmy Muller.

"[Freshman short-stick defensive midfielder] Adam DiMillo got significant minutes his first year, and I felt that was great. [Freshman long-stick midfielder] Matt Neufeldt did an extremely good job on wings and defensively. And [senior] Michael Bender was a bit of an unsung hero. He was a guy that switched position and went from long-stick to short-stick and was on the field at critical moments for us and just did a tremendous job playing out of position all year. I think that unit really was symbolic of a bunch of guys willing to make sacrifices for others."

The bad: Hopes were high that the Terps would be able to snap a 40-year drought and capture their first national championship since 1975, but those hopes were dashed by Denver in a 10-5 loss on Memorial Day at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia. The team looked like a tired group against the Pioneers, who became the fifth NCAA titlist in the last five years after playing in the first of two semifinals two days before the championship final. Tillman noted that the players had drained themselves in outlasting Johns Hopkins, 12-11in the second semifinal.


"Certainly our kids did an amazing job pushing themselves," he said. "I think we were pretty exhausted mentally and physically after Saturday, but you have no choice but to try to put your best foot forward on Monday. I think our kids had the desire to try to win that game and gave what they had. I think just execution-wise, we didn't play as well as we would have liked to have played, and give Denver credit. They were the preseason No. 1 and were certainly a worthy champion."

**Injuries to sophomore midfielder Tim Rotanz (vertigo), sophomore midfielder Lucas Gradinger (shoulder), freshman midfielder Christian Zawadzki (knee) and junior short-stick defensive midfielder Nick Manis (leg) sapped Maryland of some key reserves. The absences were especially acute on offense where the fourth attackman was usually sophomore Colin Heacock moving from the second midfield and the second midfield involved a several attempts at mixing and matching players. Tillman said the team has to cultivate production from more sources.

"We need to have more depth and I think we will have more depth," he said. "With some graduations and injuries, it really wore us down and really limited our numbers. So that's something we're going to continue to address. We thought we would have a little more depth this year, and it just didn't work out that way."

**The offense ranked 26th in the country in scoring after averaging 10.5 goals. But the unit did not fare well in other areas such as assists per game (ranking 49th at 4.8) and shot percentage (49th at 26.7 percent). The team converted just 16.1 percent of its shots (5-of-31), and although Denver senior goalkeeper Ryan LaPlante made a game-high 13 saves, Tillman said the offense must be more efficient.

"We've got to work on our shooting," he said. "That's something that will be very important for us. We've got to be a better shooting team and a team that is tighter with its stickwork."



Personnel changes: The offense bade farewell to a pair of starters in midfielder Joe LoCascio (29 goals and 15 assists) and attackman Jay Carlson (33 G, 8 A). Heacock figures to make the smoothest transition from the midfield to join sophomores Matt Rambo (40 G, 19 A) and Dylan Maltz (11 G, 5 A) as starters on attack. A healthy Rotanz could team with juniors Bryan Cole (17 G, 22 A) and Henry West (20 G, 7 A) on the first midfield. And if a report from Recruiting Rundown about UMBC junior midfielder Pat Young (21 G, 8 A in 2015) is true, Young might challenge Rotanz to start. But Tillman said he is keeping his options open.


"We never really try to replace one person with another person," he said. "There are guys who are going to have opportunities to step up. I know there are some guys who are competing for more playing time and are excited about trying to get in there and have the ball in their sticks a little bit more and get a chance."

**Ikeda emerged as a defensive leader, ranking second on the team in caused turnovers (18) and seventh in ground balls. He also contributed to Maryland's transition offense, dishing three assists. But his departure could be mitigated by Dunn evolving into the team's top defender, and fifth-year senior Greg Danseglio, a transfer from Virginia who registered 54 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers in 2014, appears poised to slide into the opening next to Dunn and Pons.

"He's a likely guy to compete for that spot," Tillman confirmed. "I'm sure that he will. He did a nice job this year with us, just practicing with us and showing us that he's got some pretty good potential. He will certainly have to get our system down, and that's not always easy, but I thought based on what we saw in him so far, he has started to understand what we're trying to do and he's a smart player, very athletic. I know he's earned the respect of a lot of our players."

**Perhaps the most worrisome graduation is that of faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa, who won 57.9 percent (125-of-216) of his draws and collected 45 ground balls. Raffa did deal with a variety of injuries during the season that prevented him from being ranked nationally, but he won 53.1 percent (43-of-81) of his faceoffs in the postseason. Still, Tillman said this will present sophomore Jon Garino Jr. (49.6 percent on 63-of-127 and 37 ground balls) and freshman Andrew Walsh (38.6 percent on 17-of-44 and 19 ground balls) with a chance to seize the starter's role.

"I don't look at it as pressure," Tillman said. "Everybody on our team wants to play. So they're working every day to try to get on that field. When you have a guy like Charlie, it's great for us to have him, but sometimes the guys that are competing against someone like him every day, I think guys are excited about that. … While we lose Charlie who did an amazing job for us, I think there are other guys saying, 'Here's my opportunity, and I want to make the most of it.'"

Forecast for 2016: Sunny. After back-to-back seasons of exceeding preseason expectations, the Terps are beginning to demonstrate the folly behind counting them out of contention for Big Ten and NCAA championships. And with the return of seven starters and the addition of Danseglio on defense, the program is one of a few early favorites to return to Lincoln Financial Field for the Final Four in 2016. Nevertheless, Maryland whiffed on a prime opportunity to bring home a coveted title last month, and the sting of that memory won't fade easily. And opponents like Johns Hopkins, Ohio State and Penn State won't make life in the Big Ten any simpler.