- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 24, 2003

Dave Cottle’s second season as Maryland men’s lacrosse coach, for all associated with the program, has been far less trying than his first. Fans are happier, players are more comfortable and the Terrapins are back in the final four for the first time since 1998.

It’s also safe to say this season was significantly easier on Cottle. The veteran coach, who was given a chilly greeting when he first arrived in College Park in September 2001 and then missed the postseason in his first year, will lead the third-seeded Terps (12-3) against second-seeded Virginia (13-2) in the NCAA tournament semifinals this afternoon at M&T; Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

“It was interesting start,” Cottle said wryly. “It’s gotten easier from the time I’ve got here. It’s been a lot of fun. These kids have been easy to coach this year. They’ve done what we’ve asked them to do and we’ve been successful. When you win, it’s a lot of fun.”

Cottle knows about winning. He took over the Loyola program in 1983 and built it into a perennial top-10 team, prompting Maryland to hire him three weeks after former coach Dick Edell retired for health reasons 20 months ago. Many Terps players were initially displeased with the hire and some threatened not to play for Cottle. Ultimately, no one left.

His first season was nearly as rocky as his welcome. The Terps were a respectable 9-4, but lost four one-goal games against their few quality opponents. With a 12-team NCAA field that included six automatic qualifiers, Maryland was squeezed out of the postseason.

Sitting out the tournament wasn’t the way Maryland fans, who had enjoyed 10 NCAA berths in the previous 11 seasons, were used to spending their May. The same was true of Cottle, who reached the postseason in his last 14 years at Loyola.

“I don’t think a lot of people understand what was going on,” junior attackman Dan LaMonica said. “We just had bad luck that had nothing to do with him coming in. … It was just a situation and everyone dealt with it the best that they could. It was a tough one, especially for him.”

The situation has improved this year. Cottle’s offensive scheme has been in place for two seasons and freshman Joe Walters and graduate student Brian Hunt have improved the attack. The team has settled on three midfield lines that have become more productive in recent weeks, and a defense, run by former Edell assistant Dave Slafkosky, is still the team’s strength.

The Terps are deeper than they’ve been in the past and — more importantly — Cottle hasn’t been afraid to use his bench to his advantage to wear down opponents. Of the 29 players who appeared in at least half of the Terps’ games this year, all but two played in the team’s 13-7 quarterfinal defeat of Massachusetts on Saturday.

“When a lot of kids are participating, they hang with you because they’re getting in,” Cottle said. “I think that’s been a big factor this year.”

One of the biggest reasons the Terps reached the final four for the first time in five years may be because they have a better feel for their coach than they did last season. Players say it is more common for them to joke around with Cottle and the expectations are clear.

“We’ve not had the same problems we had last year with the uncertainty of the regime change,” defensive midfielder Brett Harper said. “We know what practice is like, so there is a comfort level. He’s been there before and we are going to trust him in his decision-making in the final four because we know he got us here.”

Cottle has presided over this season, however he is also quick to credit his predecessor, as he did after the Terps’ quarterfinal victory.

“When you take over a program, usually it’s because they haven’t had success,” said Cottle, who took Loyola to the final four in 1990 and 1998. “This time, it was because someone was sick. This program wasn’t in a bad position at all. It was in a very good position. I do think we would have made hay in the tournament last year if we’d been in, but we didn’t get that quality win. I think [Edells] stamp is on this thing, from his assistants to some of his players.”

Still, Cottle continues to mold the Terps in his own image and it clearly can be seen by those outside the program. Virginia coach Dom Starsia, as well as others in the know, said before the season the Terps would be a serious title contender and considering their play in recent weeks, it’s easy to understand why.

“What you see now is a disciplined Maryland team,” Starsia said. “At the end of the quarterfinal, UMass just unraveled. There’s a lot of Maryland teams that would have been in their faces. You could have had a melee at the end of that game. But you saw that they have more of David’s stamp on them right now. The year has made a world of difference for Dave and the players at Maryland.”

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