Last fall, when the Maryland men’s lacrosse team began practices, there were plenty of reminders of the 42-year national championship drought it had ended a few months earlier. Events honoring the team, like a trip to the White House, didn’t allow the Terps to move on and immediately focus on 2018.
Coach John Tillman’s squad has no such problems this year. Maryland lost 13-8 to Duke in the national semifinals in May, unable to become the first back-to-back champions since the Blue Devils in 2014.
Instead of celebrations from the prior season continuing to distract the team, the loss to Duke has limited offseason pressure and allowed Maryland to prepare for the challenges that the 2019 campaign poses.
“For a lot of guys, it’s been a little weight off the shoulders,” attackman Jared Bernhardt said at an open practice Monday. “If anyone [last year] asked if there was any pressure and they said no, I think they’d be lying, just because it’s tough to repeat.”
Maryland fell behind 6-0 in its fifth consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament semifinals and never got even with the Blue Devils despite coming within a goal in the third quarter. It was the first time since 2014 that the team failed to reach the national championship game.
Several impactful players have graduated since that loss: All-American midfielder Connor Kelly, midfielder Tim Rotanz and two-year starting goalie Dan Morris. But the program’s success year-in and year-out shows that Tillman and the Terps are no stranger to overcoming roster turnover.
“That’s the great thing about this: You get new guys every year,” Bernhardt said. “In the fall, we’re able to work though some of those things and figure out who we are.”
At this point last year, the team was still being recognized for accomplishments that included players who had graduated, further complicating the team’s preparation process.
For the 2019 season, one of the team’s biggest obstacles is adapting to new NCAA lacrosse rules, including an 80-second shot clock and a 20-second limit to cross midfield after gaining possession.
The previous shot clock of 30 seconds was only implemented at the referee’s discretion.
“It’s been a very different fall in that regard just because the rules are so drastically different,” Tillman said. “It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different.”
Maryland is known for playing a slower brand of lacrosse, working to wear a defense down before getting the best available shot. Last season, the Terps’ pace ranked 67th out of 71 Division I teams.
Tillman hopes he won’t have to alter that strategy, but it seems the team will have no choice but to speed up to some extent. The goal of every possession is to get off the best shot, whether it comes five seconds into a possession or sometime after.
“It’s been good. I like it,” Bernhardt said. “You try not to change too much, but obviously you have to speed up. There’s still a lot of time, though.”
As the Terps work through changes to the rules and their roster, they’re fueled by the sting of an uncharacteristic tournament exit. The sobering final four loss has helped the team refocus, and players such as Bernhardt and long-stick midfielder Nick Brozowski spent their summers in College Park to focus on lacrosse and maintaining the team’s status as one of the nation’s premier programs.
“There’s a lot of motivation to getting back to the top of the mountain,” Brozowski said. “A lot of frustration ending the season the way we did. But at the same time, it’s motivated this team in a good way.”