Here is the seventh and final installment of a series that checks in with the seven Division I programs in the state to 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, which finished with a 14-4 overall record and a 4-1 mark in the Big Ten.
The good: Less than a year removed from their first NCAA crown since 1975, the Terps might have felt the pressure associated with being the reigning national champions. But they continued their run on success, claiming their third straight conference regular-season title, the overall No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament and their seventh Final Four appearance in coach John Tillman’s eight-year tenure. Even a 13-8 loss to No. 4 seed Duke in the national semifinals May 26 could not dilute the accomplishments the team enjoyed this past spring.
“You never want to end on a loss, and of the 17 teams that are playing, only one is going to do that right,” Tillman began. “So for this team to get to Championship Weekend and put itself in position to be on the biggest stage, I’m super proud of those guys. There could have been a lot of excuses this year of why we didn’t go there. But these guys didn’t allow that to be an excuse. It was just, ‘Let’s be as good of a team as we can be.’ ”
» Maryland finished the season as the only program to rank in the top five in Division I in both man-up offense and man-down defense, sitting in second in the former (59.1 percent on 26 goals in 44 attempts) and fourth in the latter (78.4 percent on killing 40 of 51 chances). The improvement in both areas from last spring, when the squad was tied for 31st in extra-man offense (35.1 percent) and tied for 17th in extra-man defense (71.4 percent), was somewhat surprising considering the graduation of several key players from both units. Tillman credited both offensive coordinator J.L. Reppert and defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt for working diligently with their groups of players.
“That was an improvement from 2017 to 2018, and we put a lot of time in,” he said. “We had a number of new guys and played a really tough schedule. So kudos to those guys because that really helped us this year.”
» No team was better at protecting the ball in 2018 than the Terps. They turned the ball over only 9.8 times per game, first in the country. The team committed a season-low five turnovers in its second meeting with archrival Johns Hopkins, six at Michigan and seven in the first game against the Blue Jays. Tillman said the objective every year is to eliminate what he called “silly turnovers.”
“We’re going to have some turnovers if we’re aggressive. So I think it’s the type of turnovers that I would focus more on,” he said. “But if we’re doing a good job there and we’re fairly highly ranked, that means that the guys have made some good decisions, the stickwork has been pretty good, and we’re pretty organized. So that’s a credit to the guys.”
The bad: As remarkable as Maryland’s march to its fifth straight championship weekend was, the trip to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., was cut short by the setback to Duke in the NCAA tournament semifinals. Being one of the last four teams left in the race for the national title is an achievement worth crowing about, but the Terps fell short of extending their season by two more days. Tillman acknowledged the sudden abruptness to the end of the year.
“I think the end of the season is always hard,” he said. “There’s so much buildup and then you’re in that locker room after you lose and you know that’s the end of the road for the seniors. … We never looked at that last game like, ‘Oh, my God, we didn’t make it to the championship.’ To us, it was, ‘Hey, this is the end of the road.’ You make sure that you put an arm around the guys and acknowledge their effort and make sure that we thank each other and realize how much everybody put into this thing.”
» Freshman Justin Shockey, a midyear transfer from Navy, ranked 25th in the nation in faceoff percentage at .551 (135 of 245 with 70 ground balls), and the team finished 22nd in the nation at .528 (234 of 443), which is a solid number. But that rate could have been higher if not for a five-game swoon — all against Big Ten opponents — during which Maryland failed to scrape the .500 mark. The team managed to win four of those games, but the struggles at the X raised a red flag for Tillman.
“We were very inconsistent at the faceoff X this year, and I thought in the middle of the season and as we got into Big Ten play, we were not doing a very great job there,” he said. “I think there were a couple things in play. Certainly the wings were different this year, and we had some younger guys playing there. We thought that Justin Shockey did a very good job for us, but he came to us in the middle of the year, and a lot of the things that guys learn in the fall, Justin needed to do that in the middle of the year, and that was hard for him. There was a lot of learning going on — not just at the X, but schematically what we do and the wings and the speed of play in Division I.”
» The Terps ran four different short-stick defensive midfielders, which might have been an indication of their trust in senior Adam DiMillo, junior Thomas O’Connell,sophomore Drew Harrison (Mount Saint Joseph) and freshman Roman Puglise. But it might have also been a sign of their search for two dependable players like Isaiah Davis-Allen and Nick Manis were a year ago. Although opponents focused a good deal of their dodging against the short-stick defensive midfielders, Tillman said he was pleased by their growth.
“They improved all year,” he said. “We couldn’t expect those guys to play the way that Isaiah and Nick did,” he said. “Nick was a five-year guy, and Isaiah was a four-year starter. … We kind of anticipated that we would have to go through some growing pains there, but I was impressed with what the guys did.”
Personnel changes: After graduating all three starting attackmen from last year’s squad, the offense must now replace a pair of first-line midfielders in Connor Kelly (46 goals and 36 assists) and Tim Rotanz (20 G, 21 A). Kelly became the first midfielder in program history to top 40 goals and 30 assists in the same season and the school’s third Tewaaraton Award finalist, joining Joe Walters (2006) and Matt Rambo (2017). Rotanz had at least one point in 32 consecutive games and matched his assists total through the first three years of his career. Redshirt freshman Anthony DeMaio (7 G, 6 A), juniors Will Snider (7 G) and Christian Zawadzki and sophomore Ethan Mintzer (Calvert Hall) are candidates to join freshman Bubba Fairman (26 G, 9 A), but Tillman conceded that Kelly and Rotanz have left big shoes to fill.
“I don’t think we’ll replace them,” he said. “What we’ve got to hope for is that other guys all elevate themselves. Maybe there’s a guy like Will Snider who maybe wasn’t a prominent figure but raised his level and got better and fit into a role and really helped us. We have to have other guys step up much like Will Snider did.”
» The cuts are deeper on the defense, which lost four starters and one key reserve. The close defense returns a pair of starters in junior Curtis Corley (13 GB, 14 CT) and sophomore Jack Welding (7 GB, 7 CT), but defenseman Bryce Young (25 ground balls, 11 caused turnovers, 2 G, 3 A) has left, and his backup Michael Adler (13 GB, 11 CT, 1 G, 1 A) has followed him out the door. Tillman said next season will be the time for junior and Onondaga Community College transfer Zach Pinney, sophomore and Denver transfer Matt McIlroy and members of the incoming freshman class to prove they are ready for more responsibility.
“We have some guys that have been waiting in the wings,” he said. “They’ll have their opportunity in the fall, and I think we have some pretty good kids that are coming in, and they’ve got to be able to compete and push and challenge the guys coming back in the fall.”
» The other key member of the defense who has since departed is goalkeeper Dan Morris (9.17 goals-against average and .529 save percentage), who succeeded Kyle Bernlohr and started the past two seasons. Morris was especially effective against conference opponents, posting a league-best 8.74 GAA and compiling a .554 save percentage. The pool of candidates to replace Morris includes junior Cameron Brosh, redshirt junior and Massachusetts transfer Danny Dolan and freshman Andrew Morris (no relation to Dan) — who played a combined 8:41 this past spring.
“All of those guys did a good job in practice,” Tillman said. “It’ll be a stiff competition between all of those guys because all of those guys have potential. So I’m interested to see who steps in. So I hope those guys come back ready to compete and that the competition brings out the best.”
Forecast for 2019: Sunny. Maryland will go back to the drawing board on offense because of the departure of Kelly and Rotanz. But sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt (40 G, 16 A), redshirt freshman attackman Logan Wisnauskas (35 G, 15 A) and Fairman provide a good base for that unit. The tougher challenge is a defense that also bade farewell to long-stick midfielder Matt Neufeldt (56 GB, 11 CT, 4 A) and two-way midfielder Adam DiMillo (36 GB, 2 CT, 7 G, 1 A). Still, the Terps have demonstrated a knack for replenishing that end of the field swiftly.