- The Washington Times - Friday, April 14, 2006

There was hope this finally could be the year the Maryland lacrosse team ended its 31-year title drought. The Terrapins returned their entire starting defense, and brought back enough veterans on the offensive end to justify expectations Maryland would score as easily as it ever had under fifth-year coach Dave Cottle.

It hasn’t quite worked out that way.

The No. 7 Terps have struggled to generate offense for much of the season, a problem exacerbated by consecutive losses to Virginia and Navy in which Maryland combined for 11 goals. And on top of that, Maryland (6-3) faces a goalie controversy entering tonight’s game at Homewood Field against No. 6 Johns Hopkins (5-3).

And much like this time last year, when Maryland fell to 5-5 with a loss to Hopkins, no one is quite certain how to fix the Terps’ troubles.

“There’s a lot of things,” senior attackman Joe Walters said. “That’s the mystery and we’re trying to figure it out. I can’t give you an answer because we don’t know what the answer is. This week, we’re doing a lot of soul-searching trying to correct it before this game.”

The most befuddling facet of the Terps’ struggles is an inert offense that has failed to create goals in settled situations. Maryland planned to rely on four seniors — Walters and midfielders Brendan Healy, Bill McGlone and Xander Ritz — for the bulk of its scoring, but the Terps entered the week ranked 31st of 57 Division I teams in scoring at 8.44 goals a game.

Ritz leads the team with a career-high 21 goals and Walters has turned in a solid 19-goal, 13-assist season. Yet McGlone, a first-team All-American last year, hasn’t scored more than two goals in a game, while Healy is mired in an awful drought and has missed his last 24 shots dating to March 14.

“We should know our offense, know our system, know each other well enough that we should be able to put eight, 10, 12 goals on the board every night that we play,” Ritz said. “Not doing that is extremely frustrating. I feel like we let our defense down. We’re asking them to hold really, really good offenses to five goals a game, which is ridiculous. You can’t expect that.”

Maryland has played well with a man-advantage, converting a blistering 58.6 percent of its opportunities. Yet the Terps managed only six even-strength goals the last two weeks and shot an abysmal 11-for-81 overall, and Cottle pointed to shaky stickwork and unimpressive ball movement as part of the problem.

“We’re executing all even at a very low level. I think that has been the malady of our team right now,” Cottle said. “Quite clearly we are not at the level of execution on half-field offense the way we should be. Right now, you should be scoring one out of every three half-field possessions, and we’re nowhere near that.”

The Terps also are facing a quandary in the cage, where starter Harry Alford was yanked in the middle of the first quarter against Navy raking a ball out of bounds to botch a clear. Sophomore Jason Carter entered and made seven saves in the 7-6 loss.

Cottle opened the competition this week and did not name a starter.

“Both of them are working toward separating the save part from the clearing part and to not let one affect the other,” Cottle said.

That’s never easy under the dim lights at Homewood, where Maryland has not won since 1996. Maryland has lost four straight in the series, and another setback would further extend the Terps’ increasingly maddening search for answers.

“It’s a lot of pressure, but the most important thing is, win or lose against Hopkins, we’re trying to correct some things so we can go far in May,” Walters said. “The Hopkins game is very important to us. We haven’t beaten them in three years. We have to win this game.”

Note — Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said sophomore midfielder Stephen Peyser has returned to the practice field after suffering a broken jaw in a February scrimmage against Georgetown. When Peyser will play — if it even happens this season — is uncertain.

“You have to be careful and we just have to take it day by day,” Pietramala said. “He’s missed eight games. That’s a lot of lacrosse to miss. We have to keep the continuity in mind. We have to do what’s in the best interest of our team.”

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