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 have appeared according to the chronological order in which their seasons ended. Monday's visit was with Towson. Tuesday's visit is with Maryland, which finished with a 16-3 overall record and a 4-1 mark in the Big Ten.
The good: Unlike each of the past two seasons when the Terps set program records for wins, there was no new mark this past spring. That was perhaps the only blip as the 2017 squad captured the conference's regular-season title, the league's tournament championship, and the top seed in the NCAA tournament. The crowning achievement was a 9-6 victory over No. 3 seed Ohio State on Memorial Day to lift the school to its first national title since 1975 after nine consecutive fruitless trips to the championship final. Coach John Tillman said the accomplishment was even more remarkable after a 14-13 overtime loss to North Carolina in last year's title game.
"I think having gone through last year and obviously with the way that ended, I thought the kids did a great job of getting to the championship game," he said. "Coming so close and realizing that you have to start all over again and that nothing carries over, I'm certainly proud of the guys to go, 'All right, we've got another go at it this year,' and to create a new identity for this year's team and just build it day by day and week by week. I'm certainly happy that we could get back to the Final Four, and you hope you can win the first game, and when you win the first game, you want to finish it. Just proud of our guys to be able to get back there and get over the hump this year. I think that's a credit to the seniors and the leadership of this team."
>> Maryland ended the season ranked 10th in scoring (12.5 goals per game) and 15th in defense (8.8 goals). Only three other teams in Division I ranked in the Top 15 in both departments, and they were Denver (fifth in offense and 13th in defense), Duke (eighth, 12th) and Loyola Maryland (11th, 10th). The success on both ends of the field signaled the team's overall strength.
"We really do feel like everything complements each other," Tillman said. "For this team, we felt like it was important to do well in all aspects and really focus on all aspects. Certainly there were some things down the stretch. I'm not sure that our man-up offense was as successful as it could have been, but I do think we were fairly balanced."
>> Matt Rambo's final year was one to remember. Not only did he help the team seize the NCAA crown, but the senior attackman also became the school's career leader in goals with 156 and points with 259, was named a first-team All American, and was taken with the No. 3 pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft. And on June 1, he became the first player in program history to win the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to college lacrosse's top player. It was another honor for Rambo after he was selected as the Big Ten's Offensive Player of the Year and the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Award winner acknowledged as Division I's Outstanding Player, but Tillman was just as pleased by Rambo's acceptance speech.
"Matt gave credit to his teammates and what they did to try to help," he said. "Matt would be the first guy to tell you that having [senior attackmen] Colin [Heacock] and Dylan [Maltz] and the rest of the guys was a big help to him. Obviously, that's a very prestigious award, and the history of that award makes it a very special one. So that's a great thing for Matt and a great thing for Maryland as well."
The bad: As difficult as it may be to find flaws, the Terps were not perfect. There was the three-week swoon in March when they lost to Notre Dame, 5-4, on March 4, had a road game against Albany postponed from March 11 to April 12 because of hazardous weather conditions, and then fell to Villanova, 13-12, in overtime March 18. Tillman would not go so far as to call that stretch a turning point, but it did serve to narrow the players' focus.
"We kind of played two different games in two weeks, but I think we always try to look at what we did well and what we didn't do well," he said. "Hopefully through that, some guys were getting experience and we were learning and growing and looking at some things strategically – whether it was the offense or defense. Are we running what we should be running? Should we change things? Should we change up our strategy?"
>> For the season, the team finished with a faceoff percentage of .500 – a number aided by the play of senior Jon Garino Jr., who won 71.1 percent (27 of 38) of the draws he took in the NCAA tournament. But there was a six-game stretch from April to May during which Maryland finished below the 50 percent mark five times. During that span, the team lost only once to Ohio State on April 22, but Tillman said improving faceoff play will be a priority in the offseason.
"We walked away from the last couple weeks pleased with what we had, but really going into the playoffs, we were stuck at 50 percent," he said. "So that's another area that we have to look at in terms of how we can get better. We just weren't getting the numbers that we were hoping for, and we like our people there. We like [sophomore] Austin [Henningsen], and we like [junior] Will [Bonaparte], and we like our faceoff wings. So that's another area in the offseason and the fall that we have to take a look at to get better."
>> As productive as the offense was, the man-up unit had its struggles. The Terps converted only 35.1 percent (13 of 37) of their opportunities with the extra man, and that was second-lowest mark in the six-team Big Ten. After going 10 of 15 in the first seven games, the man-up offense managed only three of 22 conversions in the final 12. The lack of extra-man success ultimately did not hurt the team, but Tillman acknowledged that it could have been better.
"We got off to a great start and I thought man-up-wise, we were really strong and were in a really good groove," he said. "If you look at the first part of the year, we were over 50 percent. And then I felt like everything else, we were kind of growing and evolving, and we shuffled the lineup a little bit, and man-up is a little bit tricky because there were some times when we were up, and we just didn't try to go to the goal. … So that number is a little skewed. We were up in the high 30s, but we know we have to be better than that. We were moving some parts around, and I'm not sure that we ever got back into a great rhythm, and that's certainly something that we're going to look at in the offseason and try to get better there."
Personnel changes: Any talk about next year's look must begin with the graduation of the attack of Rambo (42 goals, 45 assists), Heacock (28 G, 17 A) and Maltz (29 G, 6 A). Freshman Jared Bernhardt, who had 20 goals and eight assists as a member of the first midfield, is an immediate candidate to move to attack, and he could be joined by sophomores Louis Dubick (3 G, 2 A) and Timothy Monahan (2 G, 1 A) and freshman Steven Shollenberger. But Tillman said expectations will be realistic as the offense attempts to replace 47.0 percent of its scoring just from its attack.
"I think it would be unfair to think that we could start in the fall and be back to where we were, and we realize that," he said. "That will be an interesting part of the fall for us. Who steps up? Who worked really hard in the summer and steps up and takes one of those spots? There's certainly opportunity for guys, and that's one of the great things about being at Maryland. You're going to graduate some great players every year, but then there are some kids that are competent players and have been waiting in the wings for that opportunity, and that's part of what makes college athletics exciting and fun."
>> While Rambo was the nation's best player, Maryland also had the country's top defenseman. Tim Muller earned the William C. Schmeisser Award given to the Division I's outstanding defensive player and then added to that status when he was named the Most Outstanding Player in the championship final against Ohio State. Replacing Muller (36 ground balls, 20 caused turnovers, 4 G, 1 A) will not be easy. But freshmen Jack Welding (2 GB, 1 CT), Blake Carrara and Colin Hayek (2 GB) will vie for the right to join junior Bryce Young (38 GB, 13 CT, 2 G, 1 A) and sophomore Curtis Corley (21 GB, 5 CT) as starting defensemen.
"My gut says that Jack is going to be in that rotation, and he'll be fighting for playing time there," Tillman said. "I know that he'll be in the mix, and I know that he did make a lot of good progress. I think there are other guys like Blake Carrara who might be pushing for time, and Colin Hayek is another guy."
>> The defense also bade farewell to two starting short-stick defensive midfielders in two-time first-team All-American Isaiah Davis-Allen (39 GB, 2 CT, 1 G, 3 A) and Nick Manis (10 GB, 6 CT). But the position had depth as sophomores Wesley Janeck (19 GB, 1 CT) and Thomas O'Connell (3 GB, 2 CT) were the primary backups and are the incumbents to start there next spring. A potential third option, junior Adam DiMillo who scored two goals in the title game against Ohio State, will stick primarily with the offensive midfield, according to Tillman.
"I would think that those guys, given what they did, would have the most experience coming back, and I think they would start off there," Tillman said. "I think they would have the confidence to kind of go out there versus someone else who is new and has to jump out there and put himself in, and that's kind of what we would want. We want those guys to feel like, 'Hey, I'm experienced, and I've played.' "
Forecast for 2018: Sunny. Since Tillman succeeded Dave Cottle after the 2010 season, Maryland has been the model of consistency, making six trips to the Final Four in seven years and playing in five NCAA tournament finals. It helps to have four first-team All Americans in Rambo, Muller, Davis-Allen and junior midfielder Connor Kelly (46 G, 11 A), and there are enough players on the roster to suggest that the team will replenish its talent levels. But there will be challenges – beginning with a brand-new starting attack. Moving Bernhardt to his natural attack position will ease the transition, but it could take some time for that unit to jell. And the value of two steady short-stick defensive midfielders in Davis-Allen and Manis can't be overstated. The Terps should be in the conversation for national contenders in the preseason, but whether they stay there is another matter.