When coach John Tillman took the reins of the Maryland men’s lacrosse program before the 2011 season, he inherited a group that had failed to reach the NCAA tournament semifinals in four years.
Tillman led his squad to the NCAA tournament final in his first year on the job and has reached at least the semifinals in nine of his 11 seasons in College Park.
The Terps are in familiar territory — Saturday’s matchup against Army at SECU Stadium will mark their 20th-straight NCAA tournament appearance — but their trek has been one of the most difficult under Tillman. Maryland enters the national tournament with five or more losses for just the second time in the Tillman era.
“We’ve gone through a lot, we’ve had a lot of adversity, but we keep fighting and keep trying to get another day with each other because we know how special and important that is,” midfielder Jack Koras said. “We know how hard it is to make the tournament and we’re just lucky and grateful that we have this chance to continue our season and hopefully win the national championship.”
The biggest difference between this Maryland team and groups from years past is its offense; the Terps don’t have an “alpha male,” as Tillman put it. Tillman had premier goalscorers that made marks on the program’s record books in Jared Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas over the past five seasons to bail his offense out of trouble.
Before that, it was Connor Kelly and Matt Rambo carrying the load for Maryland’s attack.
Four Terps enter the weekend with at least 20 goals this season, but none with more than 28. The lone Terp starter with a shot conversion rate over 35 percent is Big Ten Freshman of the Year Braden Erksa.
The last time Maryland entered the NCAA tournament without a 30-goal scorer was 2014.
“For our guys, I don’t want them to feel like there’s necessarily pressure to do what anybody else has done,” Tillman said.
Koras has been a part of the Maryland program since 2021. Maryland suffered just one loss in Koras’ first two seasons with the Terps. That mark was doubled in the fifth game of the Terps’ current campaign.
Koras came off the bench over the past two seasons as a piece of two phenomenal Maryland offenses. The Terps scored the second-most goals per game in the country his freshman year and the most goals per game in the nation a season ago. This season, Tillman’s squad ranks as the 36th-best scoring offense among all Division I schools.
Koras was one cog for a unit with many on the offensive end, accounting for less than five percent of Maryland’s scoring in each of the past two seasons.
He’s been much more impactful this season — having scored the fourth-most goals of any Terp and accounting for 11 percent of their goals — but the quality of his attempts has gone down; his .299 shot percentage and .567 shot-on-goal percentage are career worsts.
While Koras has taken on a more prominent role this year, his familiarity with postseason play means he isn’t afraid of the big stage the NCAA tournament provides.
“I think gaining some experience in the past two years is definitely going to help so I don’t have those nerves stepping into the big time game,” Koras said. “I think it’s just gonna be a lot more fun knowing I have a bigger role, and I look forward to it.”
The Terps’ 2023 campaign had its share of highs; defeating then-No. 1 Virginia in overtime in March and securing the program’s first-ever Big Ten Freshman of the Year in Erksa. But they’ve also endured significant lows; falling to Michigan twice after entering the year a perfect 10-0 in program history against the Wolverines and failing to win the Big Ten regular season or tournament title for just the second time since joining the conference.
The results to this point show a Maryland group that’s one of the program’s worst in recent history. But the Terps still received a top-four seed in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time in the last seven tournaments, and have shown the talent — at times — that it takes to play Memorial Day weekend.