Just before the season began, Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman acknowledged the expectations of his perennial powerhouse.
“The standard’s the standard here,” he said. “We embrace it.”
That standard means three primary goals: win the Big Ten regular season championship, win the Big Ten tournament and win the NCAA tournament. Those benchmarks are clearly understood throughout the program.
But for the first time since joining the conference, Tillman’s squad didn’t accomplish the first goal on that list. In the last four years, the Terps claimed at least a share of the regular season Big Ten title. This year, though, the team finished third.
Now in an unfamiliar position, the team is refocusing on its second goal on that list. And while the third goal lingers in the background, the ninth-year coach has tried to keep national title aspirations in the distance to achieve undivided attention on Thursday’s conference semifinal.
“The first objective, obviously, we weren’t able to achieve,” Tillman said. “But, sheesh, we’ve got another one right in front of us.”
Achieving that goal begins with a familiar foe. Storied rival Johns Hopkins dispatched Maryland 16-11 Saturday night — but the Terps will get their chance to exact revenge in short order.
The quick turnaround from Saturday’s game has been focused on correcting the breakdowns that relegated a promising 5-1 start into a meaningless stretch in an otherwise lackluster performance.
“They got the best of us Saturday night,” defender Curtis Corley said. “To get a second shot at them in the Big Ten tournament and just have an opportunity to really come back — and bounce back… is beneficial for us.”
With few days to prepare, Maryland has taken on lighter practices leading up to Thursday’s game in Piscataway, New Jersey, in preparation for another physical battle. Instead, the bulk of the team’s time has been spent breaking down film from Saturday’s game and making necessary adjustments to the game plan.
If that game plan proves successful in the rematch, the Terps will set themselves up well for the NCAA tournament. The Big Ten tournament results will help dictate Maryland’s NCAA tournament seeding; while Maryland is currently the No. 5 team in the nation, its resume is still up in the air before this weekend’s Selection Sunday.
If seeded in the top eight, Maryland would secure a home game at Maryland Stadium in the first round of the tournament. Home-field advantage in that first-round game is a luxury that Tillman has enjoyed each year since 2013.
Despite the NCAA tournament implications, Tillman has shied away from looking too far into the future, instead choosing to focus solely on his team’s imminent challenge as he’s done throughout the season.
“[We’re] keeping everything short-term and keeping everything very consistent to what we’ve done all year,” Tillman said. “A lot of that other stuff is out of our hands.”
In line with that philosophy, the Terps have put Saturday’s defeat behind them and have turned their attention to factors they know will be in their control: improving both their focus and energy.
Even without a regular-season conference title under its belt, Maryland plans to use Saturday’s shortcomings to its advantage in an effort to fuel a revitalized effort on Thursday. Tillman’s first goal may be out of the picture, but his team is now firmly set on achieving the next two — beginning with a rematch against its fiercest rival.
“One of our goals is to win the [conference] tournament, so there’s still plenty of goals out there for us to attain,” midfielder Roman Puglise said. “I think there’s definitely added motivation knowing that we probably underperformed to our standards.”