The Terrapin’s men’s lacrosse team’s offense faltered in last year’s national championship, as the team scored just five goals — less than half their average in the 18 prior games.
The Terps continued to struggle with chemistry and production against stout opposing defenses to start this season, dropping two of their first three contests.
But in a stretch from March 8-16, the Terps went on an offensive burst. They notched 12 goals against Drexel. Then 17 — more goals than any of their 19 outings in 2015 — against Princeton. Then 10 against Albany last Wednesday.
Before his sixth year at the helm of the program began, coach John Tillman knew what he wanted to see: improved depth and a faster pace on attack. Through the past few weeks, the team’s emphasis on those facets has shown.
“We’re always going to be kind of probe and probe, and if you can get something early, we’ll certainly take it,” Tillman said. “If not, just make sure that we’re poised enough to take the next best shot.”
The Terps relied on scoring from veteran players to carry them through the early goings on the season. Midfielder Bryan Cole led the team with seven points in the season opener, while seven of the team’s nine goals in back-to-back losses to Yale and Notre Dame came off the stick of a junior or senior.
Though the Terps didn’t earn victories against the top-five squads, Tillman noticed the selflessness of his team. The Terps assisted on each of their scores.
“A lot of the older guys on offense were able to set the pace, share the ball, play hard,” Cole said. “Just play unselfish.”
As the team has built a three-game winning streak, though, the Terps’ less experienced players have started to leave their marks, too.
The team’s second line midfield features Lucas Gradinger, Pat Young and Tim Rotanz, the latter of whom converted from attack.
None of the trio made an impact for the Terps last year — Rotanz and Gradinger suffered season-ending injuries, while Young played for UMBC — but they’ve accounted for 15 points in the past two weeks, including eight against Princeton.
“They’ve just received the message really well from the coaches and the other guys,” Cole said. “I’m just really proud of them.”
While the diverse scoring options have helped the Terps quicken their pace and spread the ball across the attacking third — they’ve assisted on about 59 percent of their scores through six games — Tillman admitted after facing the Great Danes there are times the unit simply needs to manage the game.
The Terps turned the ball over four times in the third quarter on Wednesday, and Albany cut the Terps’ four-goal halftime lead to one with 15 minutes left.
Tillman used one timeout and almost called another later in the period, something he said he’s never done before, because “we played defense almost the whole quarter.”
“We felt like ‘Jeez, with all the defense we played, to still have the lead, that was a positive,'” Tillman said. “Our mindset going into the fourth was ‘Hey, we still have the lead. We’ll flip the field.'”
That’s exactly what happened. Less than a minute into the quarter, midfielder Connor Kelly scored. Then midfielder Colin Heacock capitalized on an extra-man opportunity three minutes later before attackman Matt Rambo completed the spurt.
The Great Danes couldn’t counter the Terps’ variety on offense. That’s what Tillman has wanted to see.
“Got the ball on the other end and were able to get out there,” goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr said. “We just had to fight fire with fire.”