Maryland’s lacrosse team is unseeded in this year’s NCAA tournament. Its first game is Sunday, on the road against a program with a modest resume in recent postseasons. A date with a highly seeded traditional power likely looms in the quarterfinals if the Terrapins win.
It’s a familiar setting for Maryland, which surged to the national title game last year despite its unseeded status.
“It does feel like we’re in the same spot,” coach John Tillman said.
But it’s not the same team. Far from it.
These Terps (9-5), who visit seventh-seeded Lehigh (14-2) on Sunday night, possess a dramatically different look than their immediate predecessors. Tillman often described his team as “new” throughout the season, and for good reason.
Six of Maryland’s probable starters Sunday did not take the field at the start of last year’s title game loss to Virginia. Three weren’t even on the roster. Freshman Charlie Raffa will be part of a faceoff timeshare with veteran Curtis Holmes.
Of the 21 Terps who saw the field last Memorial Day, nine were seniors and a 10th (midfielder Jake Bernhardt) is redshirting this season with a shoulder injury. It’s enough to make anyone wonder whether last year’s run can provide much of a blueprint for this group. Senior attackman Joe Cummings is certain it can.
“I think not only the fact we have a lot of guys who played in that game, but also guys who experienced that game,” Cummings said. “Heading into the tournament, one of the things we know as a team is we need everybody. It’s not just the guys that are playing on the field.”
Maryland was startled in 2011 when it was shipped on the road to North Carolina in the first round after capping its regular season with a home loss to Colgate. The Terps throttled the Tar Heels and then edged top-seeded Syracuse in overtime to reach the final four.
There wasn’t as much angst about the postseason destination this year, and for good reason. Maryland knew it was likely playing for a home game when it lost at Colgate on Saturday, a setback that dropped the Terps to 0-4 in games decided by two goals or less.
“It seems to come down to the end of the game where we need to finish out, maybe 10 more minutes to finish the game and then it is a whole different story,” defensive midfielder Landon Carr said. “I think we realize that, and it is a problem within ourselves that we’re working to fix. I don’t think other teams are beating us necessarily. We’re kind of beating ourselves in the end.”
It’s obvious that gnaws at Maryland, which suffered one-goal losses to UMBC and North Carolina during the regular season and to Duke in the ACC tournament. Flip one result, and the Terps probably are at home this weekend.
Yet unlike last year, when Maryland already owned an ACC tournament title, this outfit hasn’t cobbled together its most complete effort (with perhaps the exception of last month’s win at Johns Hopkins).
“We’re two different teams, and that’s totally OK,” Cummings said. “I think both teams are equally as effective, but I think heading into this year’s tournament with the guys we have we’re excited because we have not yet played to our potential, and we know that.”
One thing, however, remains very much the same for the Terps as this time last year.
“It’s a different team and a new year,” senior midfielder Drew Snider said, “But we still have to win four games.”
NOTE: Virginia attackman Steele Stanwick and Loyola attackman Mike Sawyer were named finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which is given to the nation’s top player. Other finalists include Colgate attackman Peter Baum, Duke long stick midfielder C.J. Costabile and Massachusetts attackman Will Manny.
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Patrick Stevens has covered Maryland and other Mid-Atlantic college sports for more than a decade. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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