The Washington Times - May 29, 2009, 01:52PM

You remember those Christmas mornings as a child when you’d run downstairs, tear open a package and find some complicated contraption that you just knew you were going to have a blast with since it had been a fixture during commercials since about Labor Day?

Then you struggled to put it together. And then a piece broke. And once you came up with a way to deal with that, another bit of it was lost.


And in the end, you either stuck the toy in a box in the basement to collect dust or threw it away out of frustration and returned to the old, reliable Nerf ball that was no muss and no fuss.

That about sums up Maryland’s 2009 lacrosse team, which was hardly a model of interchangeable pieces. Instead, there were lots of moving parts, with plenty of guys missing during the fall (Travis Reed and Dan Halayko among them), another vital piece arriving at the beginning of practice (Will Yeatman) and the loss of crucial long pole Brian Farrell by the end of February.

In the end, it was just too much movement, too much zaniness for anyone to deal with. A team that should have been good —- final four good —- muddled into erratic play, at times wasting good performances against teams just slightly better than the Terrapins.

There’s no getting around the fact Maryland underachieved. Some of it was chance. Some of it was speed. Some of it was constant tinkering that didn’t seem to pay off until the end of the season.

And when you run into Syracuse in the quarterfinals, that usually means the end of the season. Such was the case for Maryland.

What just happened: The Terps never really got on a roll. They lost at home to Georgetown in the second week of the season, but rebounded to upend Duke and Towson. A loss to UMBC followed, then a defeat of North Carolina and a seven-overtime loss at Virginia.

That seemed to sap the Terps, who laid an egg at Navy before playing Johns Hopkins to a goal. After an ACC tournament loss at North Carolina, the Terps went into the NCAA tournament unseeded before knocking off unbeaten Notre Dame.

That earned a date with Syracuse, and an 11-6 loss that never seemed quite that close as Maryland successfully kept the Orange out of transition and, with their own miscues, themselves out of the offensive end.

They’ll miss: The biggest losses come in the midfield, where the Terps need to replace a bunch of guys who were staples of their offense for several years.

Dan Groot drew a pole the last three years. Jeff Reynolds provided a powerful shot from the outside. And when Butler transfer Jeremy Sieverts played well, it made the Terps especially dangerous.

“We’ll miss the athleticism of Reynolds and Groot, and Sieverts came on as the year went on,” coach Dave Cottle said. “We’ll miss those guys.”

Goalie Jason Carter, part of the two-season duopoly at the position along with Brian Phipps, will also leave. Then there’s Mike Griswold, thrown in at close defense who proved capable for a guy who wasn’t exactly a regular in his first three seasons.

“Mike was a very good team defender, but I think we’ve got some guys we can play that are maybe not as smart but maybe better at picking it up off the ground and clearing it,” Cottle said. “We lose Mike’s savvy and toughness, but we should pick it up and clear it better. We weren’t as good a clearing team as I thought we might be.”

Starters lost: Two first-line midfielders (Groot and Sieverts), one second-line midfielder (Reynolds), one defenseman (Griswold), one part-time goalie (Carter).

Who’s rising: Maryland, it turns out, has two obvious candidates in the program already who didn’t play in 2009 and could make a substantial difference.

One is Owen Blye, who developed bronchitis that turned into pneumonia last winter and ultimately redshirted. But he was a factor in practice toward the end of the season while working on Maryland’s scout team.

“They couldn’t believe how good he was,” Cottle said.

Another asset is Towson transfer Eric Boyle, who scored 14 goals for the Tigers in 2008. Toss him and Blye together along with whichever of the four attackmen Cottle opts to move to midfield (the best best based on the end of the season is Grant Catalino) and the midfield situation looks better.

And then there’s Farrell. Maryland made much of his absence, and while he wasn’t the difference between making the final four and losing in the quarterfinals, he was possibly a difference in a couple of the close games (UMBC? Virginia? Hopkins?) the Terps wound up losing over the course of the season.

Farrell’s rib and sternum injury limited him to three games, and he took a medical redshirt as a result. But if he’s healthy, he’ll make things interesting for a defense that brings back both Brett and Max Schmidt.

“At the end of the last week of practice before the Syracuse game, he was the guy who played Joel White,” Cottle said. “You have to game plan for him when you’re on offense. He has tremendous instincts. He’s a guy who can pick the ball off the ground. He makes such a difference on the offensive game. He was a goal a game —- at least a point a game.”

On the spot: Team speed

Maryland was not exactly a team filled with sprinters. That’s the price of going with a couple very large human beings —- Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman —- on attack for much of the season.

Catalino was finally moved to midfield in May, and it helped this issue a bit. But the Terps were never a terribly fun team to watch, especially after Farrell’s loss zapped them of whatever danger they posed in transition.

“I felt like during the period at the beginning of the year, we weren’t as quick as we would have liked at both ends,” Cottle said. “We had to move Brett Schmidt down down low, and that helped us there. Moving Grant to midfield because of his skills, that got Joe Cummings in and made us more athletic for groundballs, riding and all that kind of stuff. no question we were very methodical at both ends. We were plodders. I think some of the changed we made helped pick up the pace for us.”

Farrell’s return will help here, as will having Yeatman in the program for a full season to ensure Maryland knows precisely what it has. But if Syracuse and the other three ACC schools all have something Maryland doesn’t, it’s either a boatload of athleticism or the willingness to unleash it.

If it’s the former, Maryland would be wise to accrue some and quickly. If it’s the latter, reversing course might be the way for the Terps to take an extra step next season.

Far-too-premature prognosis: If nothing else, Maryland would be well served to have all of its pieces in place when the fall arrives.

Obviously, Phipps (with his June 16 surgery) will miss the fall. But with star freshman Niko Amato on the way and Phipps expected to be back in time for the start of the season (his last ACL rehab took about seven months), this might not be a huge issue.

That wealth of talent is back on attack, and between redshirted guys, holdover secondary options (Adam Sear and Warren Hansen, among them) and plenty of experience back on defense, this has the look of a team that could crack the top-five.

The trouble is, nothing happens in a vacuum. Syracuse and Virginia are almost always going to be good. Duke is stacked with another set of fifth-year seniors. North Carolina continues to improve. Cornell and Princeton aren’t going anywhere. Even in a down year, Johns Hopkins is still good.

It’s along the backdrop that it’s fair to wonder how high Maryland’s upside is through no fault of its own.

Maryland lost seven games this season, and on paper you can ID three (Georgetown, Navy, UMBC) the Terps probably shouldn’t drop. But they’ve lost to one of those teams every year since 2004 after going 20-2 against that group between 1993 and 2003.

The spring of 2009 was supposed to be the springboard season, and as a result of falling short of the final four, expectations will be diminished. But Maryland shouldn’t be counted out. If healthy, if whole and if there’s a greater display of athleticism, the Terps might just make it to Memorial Day weekend in 2010.

Previous 2009 rewinds: Georgetown, Navy, Virginia

—- Patrick Stevens