Postscript from Maryland vs. Duke
Maryland is poised to accomplish something it hasn’t done since 1975: capturing the national championship. But history has not been kind to the Terps, who are 0-5 in the title game since defeating Navy, 20-13, 36 years ago.
However, coach John Tillman said the team isn’t burdened by its unsuccessful past.
“We’ve tried to focus on the moment and just the process and the journey,” Tillman said minutes after unseeded Maryland defeated fifth-seeded Duke, 9-4, in Saturday night’s NCAA tournament semifinal at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. “Stepping back now and kind of looking at things, instead of looking at that whole thing as a burden like what we haven’t done, we kind of look at what we have going for us. The tradition that we have, the alumni that we have, a state that loves lacrosse so much – we look at it as a source of strength for us. It would mean so much to everybody that it makes us play harder and work harder because we could make so many people happy. It would be so great for the people in this state to have a championship – in any sport. But for the sport of lacrosse, when almost every high school plays, it would be amazing, we run out behind that flag and not many teams do that. So we do play for more than ourselves.”
Terps senior attackman Grant Catalino said the players have embraced the school’s tradition.
“It’s kind of a feeling that you’re playing for the teams that played here in the past 30 years,” he said. “It’s not every year that a senior class gets the opportunity to play on Memorial Day weekend for the championship. There’s a lot of guys that wish they could be in our spot, but they’re out in the stands cheering us on. They’re supporting us, and they’ve supported us all year. It’d be awesome to go out as a senior and win it, and it would kind of be a tribute to the players that played here before us.”
*Maryland (13-4) has now beaten a pair of Atlantic Coast Conference rivals in Duke and No. 8 seed North Carolina and No. 1 seed Syracuse in the postseason. Tillman said he doesn’t rue the team’s unseeded status. “The fact that they were North Carolina and they were so good, we had to prepare hard or we were going home,” he said of learning the Terps’ draw. “I think if we had maybe gotten an easier draw, that might’ve hurt us because we saw this year that we were guilty of sizing up our opponents and trying to figure out how good they were and deciding how hard we were going to play. I think after that North Carolina game, we began realizing, ‘Start focusing on Maryland. It’s not about the opponent. We’ve got to be the very best we can be every single day and push ourselves.’”
*Tillman is the first to credit the previous coaching staff – headed by former head coach Dave Cottle – for bringing together this year’s talent. Tillman said the expectations of him and defensive coordinator Kevin Warne were tangible as soon as they met the players. “Losing their coach last year was really hard on these guys,” Tillman said. “I think almost all of them were so heartbroken, and when we came in as a staff, we kind of had to prove ourselves. It was kind of like, ‘OK, Coach Tillman, don’t screw this up for us.’ And we really had to prove ourselves. And I think the biggest thing for us was, ‘We’re not geniuses. We’re not going to reinvent the wheel here. You’re close. All we want to do is bring what we feel comfortable doing and the things that are true to us, and then maybe just a couple tweaks here and there, maybe that will help.’ But also having so many seniors, knowing that this is their final time, that makes a huge difference. It’s maybe that extra five minutes staying after or that extra workout or maybe leading some of the younger guys. That may get you that extra goal, that extra ground ball.”
*The All-Atlantic Coast Conference final of Maryland and No. 7 seed Virginia is the first such pairing since 1986. But no other conference has sent two members to the title game, and Duke coach John Danowski said the bar for ACC programs is high. “It doesn’t surprise me for a second,” he said of the league’s success. “From the first year that I came to Duke, I was shocked by the level of athleticism everywhere – North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland. Every team has their ups and downs and different challenges that they face. But in the end, it’s Virginia and Maryland, and we’re very proud to be part of the ACC. We root for both teams to win.”
*The Blue Devils’ run to their fifth consecutive Final Four and sixth appearance in the last seven years was somewhat surprising considering the number of players lost to graduation and injuries. Duke’s roster is young, which suggests that the school could be a contender in the near future. “The hope is that they will grow and learn from these,” Danowski said. “There’s no guarantee ever in athletics that it will get better, but that’s the hope, that we can build on these experiences going forward. We lose three seniors – [attackman] Zach Howell, who has been a major character guy for us; [defenseman] Tom Montelli, who has changed positions for us; and [short-stick defensive midfielder] Terrence Molinari. But with injuries, things change and you never know what’s going to happen next year. That’s why you kind of mourn about this year because you never know if you’re ever going to get back here. Now’s your chance, now’s the time. We certainly don’t want to look forward to tomorrow’s meeting when we say goodbye to everybody, but that’s when you start to look forward to next year.”