On Feb. 6, Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman ruled out senior defender Mac Pons for at least one month with a lower-body injury.
In his first three years with the Terps, Pons appeared in 54 games and made 39 starts. Given the veteran’s experience, Tillman was concerned his absence would hurt the squad.
Through four games this season, No. 2 Maryland conceded nine goals per outing, just above the 8.35 it surrendered last year. But against No. 1 Notre Dame, the Terps overcame Pons’ absence to hold the Fighting Irish to five goals in the defeat.
On Tuesday, Tillman claimed he didn’t have an updated estimate for Pons’ return, meaning Maryland must maintain its control while short-handed as it battles No. 12 Albany this Saturday.
“We haven’t really put a timeline on ‘You need to get back by a certain point,'” Tillman said. “I don’t want to rush it.”
Tillman believes it’s possible for Pons to come back soon, but he acknowledged the defender hasn’t visited the doctor for a check-in. That appointment, which should clarify his status, might not occur until next week.
If the Bel Air native’s health doesn’t improve soon, Maryland can choose to redshirt him. However, Tillman will leave the choice to the Pons family because he doesn’t want to “force a decision like that on anybody.”
Regardless, the coach is wary of hurrying Pons into action. He wants to make sure the fourth-year defender is at full strength before inserting him into the starting lineup.
“Sometimes as athletes, you’re so competitive that you can rush yourself back, which I think would be a big mistake,” Tillman said. “We’re not just talking about this year. We’re talking about his long-term health and wellbeing, and that’s something we need to do a good job of keeping in the back of our mind.”
Maryland missed Pons’ presence during its first five games. Senior defender Tim Muller, who tries to be more vocal without his teammate, said it’s been difficult to cope without his defensive partner’s sound instincts and positioning.
In recent games, though, the Terps have improved. After holding then-No. 8 Yale to 11 scores in a victory two weekends ago, they produced their best defensive effort of the year against Notre Dame.
Tillman said Muller’s development as a leader helped Maryland’s progress in that contest. Plus, the willingness of inexperienced starters, such as sophomore Curtis Corley, to listen to team veterans has made an impact.
“They all listen to me, and I think they all look up to me a little bit because I’m a senior,” Muller said. “They know we need to keep learning as the season goes on.”
Midfielder Ben Chisolm said the team was disappointed its strong defensive effort against the Fighting Irish didn’t garner a victory, especially because the attackmen are often reliable. Before the 5-4 defeat, the Terps had scored 12 or more goals in 10 straight contests, their longest streak since 1978.
Still, the stoutness the Terps (4-1) displayed last weekend gives them assurance entering their bout with the Great Danes (3-1).
“Since the beginning of the season, our offense has been the one kind of carrying it a little bit, and to have a game like that helps our defense’s confidence a lot,” Chisolm said. “It just shows how good we can be going forward.”