The Maryland men’s lacrosse team didn’t celebrate after it beat Albany to advance to the final four last season. Instead, the Terps quietly exited the Delaware Stadium field with their attention fixed on winning the national championship for the first time in 42 years.
Maryland accomplished that goal eight days later with a 9-6 victory over Ohio State, and coach John Tillman allowed his players to briefly enjoy the NCAA title with a memorable trip to the White House and halftime recognition at a Terps football game.
Senior midfielder Tim Rotanz said former attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock, as well as former defensemen Mac Pons and Tim Muller, used a group chat to encourage the returning crop to remain loose. But rather than taking the bait of the boisterous former teammates that helped lead the Terps’ 2017 championship charge, Rotanz and fellow seniors Dan Morris and Connor Kelly refocused on the 2018 campaign.
As the No. 1 Terps prepare for their season opener against Navy on Saturday at Maryland Stadium, Tillman has leaned on Rotanz, Morris and Kelly to eliminate complacency, even if it means tuning out messages from former teammates.
“We just have to set the pace and tone and urgency that it’s not last year,” Rotanz said. “This team right now has done nothing.”
As Maryland attempts to become the first team since Duke in 2013-14 to win consecutive titles, it’ll need to discover new offensive threats. Rambo and Heacock, both All-Americans in their final season in College Park, anchored Maryland’s offense, scoring a combined 70 goals. The Terps ended last season averaging 12.5 goals per game, the second-best mark in the Big Ten and 10th-best nationally.
Kelly, named to USILA’s preseason Players to Watch list, led Maryland with 46 scores last season. In accordance with program tradition, Kelly switched his jersey number from No. 40 to Rambo’s coveted No. 1, signifying the added importance he’ll have in the lineup.
“We come in and improve each and every day,” Kelly said. “What we did last year, it’s going to be much harder to achieve this year.”
Tillman’s team experienced comparable turnover on defense, with Muller and defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen graduating. The pair led a top-15 unit that allowed fewer than nine goals per game.
Maryland’s defense is now under assistant coach Jesse Bernhardt’s leadership after Kevin Conroy accepted a job at Michigan in June. But Tillman remains optimistic, admiring the progress of Morris in goal, along with long-stick midfielder Nick Brozowski and defensemen Bryce Young and Curtis Corley.
About 30 percent of Maryland’s roster features new players, Rotanz estimated, which should prove beneficial as the Terps move forward. Neither freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman nor freshman face-off specialist Justin Shockey contributed to the Terps’ past success, but both could see their roles increase as the season progresses.
With the opener approaching, Rotanz said the Terps’ recent graduates have kept the group chat active. Some are making plans to attend Saturday’s game, but Rotanz and Morris are hesitant to respond.
“Me and Dan are trying to not really talk in that group, just because we’ve got to focus on what we’ve got to do,” Rotanz said. “They obviously have other priorities. We have to focus on preparation.”