In retrospect, maybe that loss to North Carolina two weeks ago wasn’t such a bad thing after all.
Since that setback – which entailed Maryland failing to protect a 4-0 advantage in the first quarter en route to an 11-6 decision on March 26 – the Terps have beaten No. 7 Virginia and Navy by respective scores of 12-7 and 10-6.
No. 6 Maryland, which improved to 8-2 after thrashing the Midshipmen Friday night, has looked sharper and crisper in those two victories, and sophomore attackman Owen Blye said the team has used the loss to the Tar Heels as a sort of rallying point.
“Everything that happens in the season has to be taken as a learning experience – whether it’s positive or negative,” said Blye, who has registered four goals and three assists since the North Carolina contest. “A lot of times, you can learn more from negative things that happen to you throughout the year, and you have to look at it that way. Obviously, we’re disappointed with what happened in the Carolina game. Nobody ever wants to go up four goals and lose the game, but after it happens, you have to use it as a learning experience and not let it happen to you again.”
Terps coach John Tillman seemed to suggest that several players took the Tar Heels for granted.
“There were a lot of guys that had to look at themselves in the mirror,” he said. “I’ve told a number of guys this: there’s no handbook to deal with expectations for a season. These guys, not a lot was expected of them the last three or four years and then with so many experienced guys coming back, everybody was telling them – it was either family members or friends or alums or media – ‘You’re going to be great, you’re going to be great, you’re going to be great.’ I think some of the greatest kids on our team – when we met after Carolina – were like, ‘Well, we just of thought it would happen.’ As new guys, we would tell them all the time that it’s the little details. It’s your approach, it’s your attitude, and I think they listened, but they were kind of like,’ Yeah, but we were good last year, and we have all these guys back.’ And what they didn’t realize was that Carolina was bringing in the best freshman class in the country, and those kids were talented and ready to play. Just because they were freshman doesn’t mean they can’t hurt you.
“I think it was a little bit of a wake-up call,” Tillman continued. “I don’t think there was any arrogance. I don’t think there were guys that didn’t care, that thought they were above anything. I think they had to step back and go, ‘Wow, what we’re doing is not good enough. Maybe we need to be a little more critical of ourselves.’ And that’s really helped us because we’re not doing a ton different, but we are doing better.”
The loss to the Tar Heels served as a reminder for Maryland against Navy. After taking a commanding 6-1 advantage after the first quarter, the Terps players revived memories of their inability to protect the 4-0 lead.
“I think we were talking about the Carolina game when they were able to come back on us,” senior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell said. “We were like, ‘Hey, let’s stay mentally focused and keep this going.’ I think we did a good job of doing that.”
*Maryland’s defense limited a Virginia offense that had been averaging 14.1 goals to seven tallies. Six days later, the unit held the Midshipmen to six goals below their season average. Tillman credited the defense’s resurgence to a de-emphasis on individual match-ups. “The Carolina game, we got a little too caught up with the personnel,” he said. “People look and go, ‘Well, [senior defenseman] Brett Schmidt was covering [Tar Heels senior attackman] Billy Bitter, and Billy Bitter didn’t score any goals.’ The problem was, they scored a lot of goals, and I think at times, we got a little too worried about our guy and not what’s the scheme, what are we doing collectively. And there were some creases because we were worried about match-ups. We’ve really de-emphasized match-ups and worried more about how we’re laying collectively, how we’re doing as a scheme. The system will take care of itself on offense and defense if you just focus on the system, focus on the team. If everybody’s doing the little things, the big things will work out, and I think that was really a big learning lesson for us.”
*This was Tillman’s first visit to Annapolis for a regular-season contest against his former employer, and he didn’t sound that happy about it. Tillman, who had spent 12 seasons with the Midshipmen as the offensive coordinator and head assistant coach, said he hadn’t thought much about his return until the bus ride to Annapolis. “When you’re here that long and you care so much about this school and what it means and you have so many great relationships, you don’t want to see them lose,” Tillman said. “You want to see them succeed. I always get on the internet every weekend and check to see how they did and usually text Coach [Richie] Meade or some of the guys and say, ‘Congrats. Good job.’ Or on a loss, ‘Keep it going. Good luck.’ Because this place was so good to me. I wouldn’t be here or the person I am or in this position without Coach Meade and everybody here.”
*With the loss, Navy fell to 4-7, thereby sealing their postseason fate to qualifying for the four-team Patriot League tournament and capturing that championship to advance to the NCAA tournament. The first step towards that goal is knocking off No. 15 Army on Saturday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, but Meade said he won’t call Saturday’s contest a must-win proposition due to playoff concerns. “I’m not going to diminish the importance of the Army-Navy game or the men who have played in it for both teams to break it down to whether or not it’s a playoff spot,” he said. “It’s got nothing to do with the Patriot League playoffs – to me. If you guys want to write about that, you can. To me, it’s the Army-Navy game, and it’s the most important game that we play. It’s our greatest rival, and that by itself makes it an important game. The other stuff, I don’t care about. I really don’t. We’ve got two games left on our schedule. We’ve got to play those two games. We’re going to play to win, we’re going to play hard. This team has worked as hard as any team I’ve ever had, and I’m disappointed for them.”
*The Midshipmen sounded like their coach, being matter-of-fact about their mindset for the remainder of the season. “Beat Army,” junior goalkeeper R.J. Wickham said. “That’s the only thing. We’ve got to win the next game. That’s all we need to worry about.” Senior short-stick defensive midfielder Marty Gallagher said the players’ approach won’t change. “We come out Monday the same – either way,” he said. “It’s not like, ‘Oh, we have to win this game.’ We have to win this game anyway – regardless of what has happened. So we’ll come out on Monday, ready to go.”
*With Republicans and Democrats agreeing to a temporary continuance to reaching a budget deal, a federal shutdown has been delayed until next week. So the Bucknell-Army game on Saturday will continue as planned. But there’s no guarantee that the Army-Navy contest will do the same. It should make for another nerve-wracking week of preparations.