Maryland’s men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman took a trip to Alabama in 2013 — the same year his team endured a first round NCAA tournament exit — to meet with Crimson Tide coach and then-four-time national champion Nick Saban.

In Tuscaloosa, Tillman studied the culture the legendary college football coach established. After winning his first national championship in 2017, Tillman had instilled certain aspects of the Crimson Tide’s program into his own.

Saban sent a letter to Tillman in response. The message was simple: sustaining success is a lot harder than achieving it.

Tillman has turned the Terps into a perennial contender and has since added another national title to his resume. But Maryland failed to win an NCAA tournament game last year for the first time since 2013.

Postseason success is now expected. The Terps are looking to avoid complacency.

“I don’t think last year sat well with anybody,” Tillman said. “The standard is pretty high here.”

Maryland’s 2023 season started to crumble just two games in. Tillman lost his star goalkeeper, two-time All-American honorable mention Logan McNaney, to a torn ACL. While then-freshman Brian Ruppel filled in, he wasn’t the same presence in the cage as the 2022 NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

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But McNaney is healthy entering this season, and his postseason success is impactful for the Terps. The graduate student posted a save percentage above 70 percent in three of Maryland’s four tournament games en route to claiming Most Outstanding Player honors in 2022. Ruppel’s save rate was just 23.8 percent in the Terps’ lone postseason outing last season.

Maryland had a late opportunity to force overtime in that season-ending loss to Army last year. All-American Luke Wierman won a face-off, down one goal with 36 seconds left. He sprinted to the cage, firing a shot that could’ve tied the game. The look sailed out of bounds.

Wierman, the Terps’ face-off specialist since 2021, failed to reach the national championship for the first time in his collegiate career. The graduate student never wants that feeling again.

Wierman, who enters this campaign just 12 face-off wins away from breaking the program record, spent this offseason improving his focus and mindset. He wanted to become a leader and not show frustration when things don’t go the Terps’ way, he said.

His success drives his team’s chances for national contention. With Wierman, the Terps have one of the best face-off specialists and the ability to win more crucial possessions. Last year’s first round exit gives Wierman even more motivation this season.

“It’s my last year with the guys, my last year with the program,” he said. “I want to, and I know the older guys want to maximize our time together.”

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Maryland’s lack of offensive efficiency ultimately doomed it last year. But one bright spot was freshman sensation Braden Erksa, who flashed with three four-goal outings and was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year.

A second season of Erska should boost the Terps’ offense this season, as will the return of Eric Malever, who missed the entirety of the 2023 campaign with a torn ACL, MCL and broken tibia. Brown transfer Griffin King adds another element to Maryland’s 2024 offensive attack.

Even the Terps’ defense last season wasn’t at the level it’s been at in years past. Tillman brought in three Vermont transfers — Nick Alviti, Jackson Canfield and Colin Sharkey — to offset the departure of two-time All-American Brett Makar and solidify that side of the ball this year.

Tillman understands the difficulties of staying at the top. Maryland’s leader, because of his visit to Tuscaloosa, knows what it takes to maintain greatness. He feels equipped to get back to that level of success.

“You’re fighting complacency, you’re fighting everybody batting on your back, but also you’re gonna lose guys, you’re gonna have new guys in there,” Tillman said. “You may have to adjust and change what you do to adapt to them. Guys are going to have to get to that level of experience of comfortability and just realize it does take some time and it’s not easy, but that’s kind of what makes it challenging.”