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.”