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Young Terps hope to maintain defensive grit

Unit experienced offseason overhaul

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 16, 2012

Maryland pushed its way to the NCAA lacrosse title game last spring with a group of defensive players who were mainstays in College Park seemingly forever.

It was tough to remember the Terrapins without Brian Farrell galloping in transition, or a Schmidt (Max or Brett) menacing an attackman. Even the guys who weren't as well known — dependable defenseman Ryder Bohlander and reliable short stick Dan Burns - were stalwarts.

Of course, this is a college team, and nearly the entire group departed after Maryland fell a win shy of a national championship. With the Terps (13-5 last year) opening their season Saturday against Hartford at Byrd Stadium, there will be a vastly different look to the program's longtime bastion of strength.

"We're a group with a lot of potential. Not many people have played prior to this," junior defensive midfielder Landon Carr said. "Coming off this winter we've improved a ton, and I think we'll live up to the Terrapin defense standards."

But first, they'll have to introduce themselves.

There is Carr, a short stick who played plenty during Maryland's postseason run. There is Jesse Bernhardt, who backed up Farrell last year but could switch between close defense and long pole as the need arises this season.

Also back is goalie Niko Amato, who thrived as a redshirt freshman with a veteran group in front of him.

The other names — sophomores Brian Cooper and Michael Ehrhardt among them — aren't quite so familiar, at least not to those who only see games.

"There's going to be some things here and there with different offenses that we'll see that are facing us, but for the most part we know what our system is and what we want to do," Amato said.

Indeed, many of Maryland's defensive pieces learned the scheme over the last year. A concern: Those same guys typically served as scout team players and replicated opposing defenses each week.

The group took a hit earlier in the month when senior midfielder Jake Bernhardt suffered a left shoulder injury during a scrimmage and underwent surgery. Coach John Tillman said this week he expects Bernhardt to be out at least a month.

While Bernhardt was primarily an offensive player, he was likely to see time on defense as the unit coalesces in the early stages of the season. With or without him, though, there still figured to be some adjustment.

"We hope last year is kind of a rare occurrence where we lose so many guys at once," Tillman said. "You hope you have a system and you lose a few guys and you bring a few guys in every year.

"If the system is sound, and we feel like it is, if you bring in good enough athletes and they're smart and communicate, you can make things work. It's very different we have to replace so many parts at once."

And well-regarded parts, too. Farrell and Brett Schmidt were second-team All-America picks, and Farrell possessed stick skills rare for a pole. Max Schmidt was a four-year starter. Burns was a selfless, do-everything player. Collectively, they allowed opponents only three double-digit scoring days in 2011.

They were also the latest in a long line of talented defenses to come out of College Park — something their successors are acutely aware of.

"The bar's been set, and we're not looking to underachieve that," Jesse Bernhardt said. "We're looking to get to where that bar has been set, and that's what Maryland prides itself on is tough defenses and All-American defensemen. We're trying to almost live up to the expectation of having that kind of reputation."

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