- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 22, 2014

One more game.

That’s all any senior playing in a single elimination tournament can think about. Let’s win today so we can play just one more.

This slightly panicked logic must have run through several heads on the Maryland lacrosse team two weeks ago as the clock dwindled away against Cornell in the first round of the NCAA tournament.

But senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk resolved that he had not played his last game, and with two seconds remaining he fired a shot past the Big Red’s freshman goalie Christian Knight, handing Maryland the 8-7 win. The Terrapins then went on to face Bryant in the quarterfinals, and obliterated the Bulldogs 16-8 behind Chanenchuk’s nine points (five goals, four assists).

The team and its seniors lived to fight another day, setting up a national semifinal matchup against Notre Dame on Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

“This will probably be the most competitive lacrosse I’ll ever play,” Chanenchuk said. “Obviously you want that to last.”

It’s a common sight in college athletics to see competitors nearing the end of their playing careers trying to make the most of the time they have left. It happens on the big stage of the NCAA basketball tournament, where miracles seem to happen every March, but it is not uncommon in any sport with a tournament structure.

The point is that one should never underestimate the peculiar power that a looming departure has on the performance of certain athletes. Chanenchuk and senior goalie Niko Amato are two such players for Maryland.

Since transferring from Princeton as a redshirt sophomore in 2012, Chanenchuk has put up some incredible numbers for the Terrapins. In 48 games over three seasons, he has tallied 76 goals and 43 assists. Included in those numbers are five game-winning goals — three of them coming this season.

Amato has started in goal since his freshman year, going 48-18, and is third in the country in goals against this season with an average of 7.17 per game. Both have been impact players for their team and both will be sorely missed by the Terps next season, but this ride isn’t over yet.

“Senior year is different” Chanenchuk said. “If you lose you’re done and that definitely adds some urgency, but at the same time we don’t want to get outside of our game.”

Chanenchuk advocates a balance. Clearly you cannot simply ignore the fear that a given game might be your last game ever, but you have to find a way to harness that fear and channel it into your own play.

Amato is no stranger to this win-or-go-home competition either, having played in the 2011 and 2012 national championship games.

“We all know it’s going to end eventually,” he said, “but I would love to go out on top.”

For Amato, taking home an NCAA championship in his final year would be the perfect ending to a career that has included just about every other type of success.

“We’ve been working hard as a team to stay together since August,” he said. “We’d like to stay together just a little while longer.”

The seniors on this Terrapin team are not the only ones acutely aware of their impending departure. Coach John Tillman understands it will be hard to replace his leaders.

“We’re confident in the guys that will be here next year to fill that goalie position,” he said, “but I don’t think we’re going to ask anyone to be Niko.”

Tillman and his seniors will be holding onto this season for as long as possible, grasping at one last chance to bring home a national championship with the goalie who has brought them to the brink twice before.

“I’ve got to think he’s one of the best goalies to play in the last 10 years in terms of consistency,” Tillman said. “We wouldn’t trade him for anyone.”

The Terps will certainly need both their top scorer and their world-class goalie in the best form possible when they face Notre Dame for the third time this season. The teams split the previous two meetings, Maryland winning the first game 12-8 during the regular season and Notre Dame knocking the Terrapins out of the ACC tournament with a 6-5 win in the semifinals.

“We’ll definitely use the ACC tournament as motivation in this game,” said Chanenchuk. “Winning the ACC is one of our goals as a program every season, we’ll definitely remember that game going into this weekend.”

Whatever the Terps choose to use as motivation against Notre Dame on Saturday — be it their last ride or their animosity toward their opponents — this is a team that has tasted success and is hungry for more.

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