- The Washington Times - Friday, April 25, 2008

Not a season seems to pass without the development of the latest standout Maryland defenseman.

Few, though, have done it as quietly and efficiently as Joe Cinosky.

After three years of playing alongside Ray Megill and Steve Whittenberg — far flashier players — Cinosky is enjoying a stellar senior season for the No. 5 Terrapins (8-4), who meet No. 3 Virginia (11-2) in tonight’s ACC semifinals at Charlottesville’s Klockner Stadium.

“Most of my career I’ve been under the radar and I like it like that,” Cinosky said. “This is the most attention I’ve ever gotten.”

It’s still well-deserved, since Cinosky holds together a unit that entered the season short on experience and plays in front of an effective goalie rotation.

Those expecting the crushing hits, constant checks or unmistakable flair of a Chris Passavia, Michael Howley or Whittenberg might be in for a surprise. But he hasn’t needed a signature move or a shutdown reputation to help the Terps hold opponents to 7.13 goals a game.

“He has not been as good a cover guy as those guys were, but this year he’s been to the same level and maybe more because he can play on the crease, he can play behind, he can play up top,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “I’ve been very impressed with him. I think right now he’s a pretty charismatic defender and he has been clearly our best player this year.”

It wasn’t easy to see it coming. Cinosky was overshadowed despite starting since late in his freshman year, and Cottle conceded he probably savored games far more than the overall experience of being part of a team.

Yet a first-round exit in last year’s NCAA tournament proved jarring for Cinosky, who pledged to himself he would be in better shape the next season.

Unlike his predecessors, Cinosky did not have a fearsome image to maintain, a burden many dominant cover guys eventually carry. Cinosky views himself as one piece of a larger puzzle rather than a shut-down pole who permits a single player’s production determine the effectiveness of his own performance.

“He cares more about the team defense,” senior defenseman Ryne Adolph said. “If he has to slide away from that guy, he’s going to do it. I feel like some years, we’d have defensemen who were so nervous about covering a guy like [Duke’s Matt] Danowski that they wouldn’t want to leave him and other guys ended up getting more goals.”

No team other than Duke has scored more than 10 goals against the Terps this season, something that was relatively unexpected since Maryland relies heavily on freshmen and players who entered the season with little playing time in tight games.

Cinosky quickly sized up that situation after last season, and much of what he’s done since has targeted tightening up the unit.

“All the rest of the defensemen played sparingly the last couple years because we had such an unbelievable defense, so Joe’s been like a rock,” Adolph said. “With him out there, it makes me feel so much more comfortable.”

The Terps enter the ACC tournament safely in the NCAA tournament field rather than ensconced in a rebuilding mode some thought would ensnare the program this year. Rather than needing a late-season push just to make the field, a second victory over Virginia could push Maryland into a top-four seed.

And even if no one noticed him before, Cinosky is as responsible as anyone for getting the Terps there.

“I definitely took a little bit of ownership, but I’ve played with these guys my whole career,” Cinosky said. “I knew they could get the job done. It makes me proud though. We don’t have a team of names, and the fact we’re still successful, it’s unbelievable.”

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