When the Maryland men's lacrosse team made a coaching change after the 2010 season from Dave Cottle to John Tillman, Bryan Cole could have made a change of his own regarding his commitment.
But Cole, who hails from Oakvale, Ontario, Canada, was determined to become a Terp.
"With Coach Cottle, he was a big part and [former assistant] coach [Ryan] Moran was a big part of my decision," Cole said recently. "But I would say that for the most part, it was the campus, it was the players, it was what they had showed me when I came here on my recruiting visit. It was kind of the environment that brought me here and intrigued me. I wouldn't say it was something that deterred me. It made me want to come here more."
Cole took the leap despite the absence of a fellow Canadian on the Maryland roster. That might have dissuaded some, but not Cole.
"I was obviously a little nervous coming here," he admitted. "I didn't know anybody and I didn't have any friends here, and there weren't any past players whom I could have talked to for references. But just seeing how the guys were in the weight room and on the practice field and how they competed on game day, it was just incredible, and that really intrigued me to jump right in."
The Terps have benefited from Cole's loyalty. The junior midfielder leads the team in assists with 20 and ranks fourth in points with 31 and has already surpassed previous career-high marks in goals, assists and points in his first year as a full-time starter.
In his last three starts, Cole has recorded four goals and eight assists, and his emergence as a playmaker will be critical for Maryland (13-3) as the NCAA Division I tournament continues. The No. 6-seeded Terps will face No. 3 seed North Carolina (13-3) in Sunday's quarterfinal at 2:30 p.m. at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.
"What I love about Maryland this year is their offensive distribution," said ESPN analyst Mark Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. "Last year, when things went south for the Terps, it was [former attackman Michael] Chanenchuk or bust. Now it's people sharing the ball, getting guys open shots, and Cole is one of those guys who has always been steady and now he's getting opportunities to fit right in with [assistant coach] J.L. Reppert's offense in terms of sharing the ball and offensive distribution, and he's just benefited tremendously."
Cole's potential seemed a distant proposition during his first two years with the Terps. He played in just two games as a freshman in 2012 before requiring season-ending wrist surgery, and a slow recovery allowed him to play in just six contests as a sophomore.
Cole produced five goals and seven assists as a member of the second midfield, but earned a promotion with the transfer of sophomore Connor Cannizzaro and an injury to sophomore Tim Rotanz.
Cole's prowess as a distributor has dovetailed with his move from the bottom left spot of Maryland's 3-3 set on extra-man opportunities to the top middle position where he has a broader view of the field and his teammates. It was a spot that Chanenchuk had manned last spring, and Cole has registered nine of his assists in man-up situations.
"He's in a spot in that extra-man [unit] where he's going to have to make a lot of decisions," Tillman said. "He's in the top middle, and that's usually where you need a guy that's going to make good decisions and a guy that has good vision."
But Cole shrugged off a playmaker label, preferring to credit sophomore attackman Matt Rambo, senior attackman Jay Carlson (St. Paul's) and senior midfielder Joe LoCascio for making him look good.
"The guys I'm playing with are really good at canning shots," Cole insisted. "We've got Matt and Joe who can shoot the ball from a pretty good distance. And we've got Jay on the inside who is incredibly crafty. There are so many guys on offense you can rely on to make shots. Assists are the kind of a thing that go hand-in-hand with guys who can score."
LoCascio said Cole's background in box lacrosse — which places an emphasis on physical, rugged play in a more confined space — has helped him develop as a feeder.
"They rely on moving the ball a lot more than the American style of the game," LoCascio said. "When he sees a matchup he likes, he's very opportunistic. And over the years, he's learned how to use his body to his advantage. He's just optimizing that this year."
Brodie Merrill, a former two-time first-team All-American long-stick midfielder at Georgetown and Cole's coach at The Hill Academy in Vaughan, Ontario, has watched several Terps games on the Big Ten Network and has noticed a difference in the 6-foot-3, 190-pound Cole.
"He's always been a mature player and a smart player," Merrill said. "He does the job in the midfield, kind of controlling possessions and the pace. He's always had great range in his shooting. So you see a lot of the same things now, but just at a higher level. You see some of the intangibles like the poise, that understated confidence that he has."
Despite Cole's improvement, few defenses have assigned a long-pole to him, choosing instead to mark LoCascio. Cole laughed when asked if he took those decisions as slights.
"I don't mind going up against a short-stick," he said. "I'm not looking too much into the numbers. I think the eight assists [in the last three games] have come from really good shooting from the guys on offense. I'm not offended. I haven't put up crazy numbers in the past or this year. So I don't foresee a pole in the near future either."