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May 18, 2010

Lambrecht: Door Swings Wide Open for Maryland

by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Lambrecht Archive

Maryland's Will Yeatman, healthy and creating match-up problems again, gets another crack at his former team Saturday when the Terps play Notre Dame in the NCAA quarterfinals.

© TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

University of Maryland men’s lacrosse coach Dave Cottle knows he has the horses to make something special happen in the NCAA tournament.

Cottle also knows that -- and he is too cagey to say it out loud in public -- a red carpet is inviting the Terrapins to reach a place that has become foreign to the school for an incredibly long time. It’s also a place Maryland might have to reach for Cottle to preserve his job.

Imagine third-seeded Maryland on Memorial Day at M&T Bank Stadium, taking a victory lap with a championship plaque it has not held since 1975. Imagine Cottle ripping the gargoyle off his back finally, by capping the 28th year of a distinguished career as the last coach standing.

And what a juicy path to the title game the third-seeded Terps (12-3) have before them. After sixth-seeded Princeton and two-time defending champion, second-seeded Syracuse suffered first-round knockouts at home on Sunday, the tournament could not look more Maryland-friendly.

To reach the school’s fourth final four in Cottle’s nine seasons in College Park, Maryland must solve unseeded Notre Dame (8-6) in Saturday’s quarterfinal. The Irish, behind a tenacious defense led by senior goalie Scott Rodgers, eliminated Princeton, 8-5.

Then, the Terps would have to beat either seventh-seeded Cornell or unseeded Army -- the tournament darlings after rallying to beat Syracuse in double overtime -- to make it to the championship game. Meantime, on the other side of the bracket, ACC powers Virginia, Duke and North Carolina can beat each other up.

You might say the doorway is wide open for Maryland -- which has not been to an NCAA title game in 12 years -- and for Cottle, who has only been there once, back in 1990 at Loyola.

“Yeah, the door is in sight. I can see it,” Cottle said. “Whether it opens or not will be determined by what we do on Saturday. We have to take care of the business that’s in front of us first. We’ve got good energy, good synergy; we’ve given good effort all year. I don’t see panic in us.”

Maybe, just maybe, this is the year Maryland gets it done. Maybe, just maybe, it’s Cottle’s turn to win The Big One. He’s surely done everything else.

Cottle has not had a losing season since 1983, his first at Loyola. He ushered Loyola into the Division I age, won 181 games in 19 seasons there, took the Greyhounds to 14 consecutive NCAA tournaments. A victory over Notre Dame would give Cottle 100 wins at Maryland, which is playing in its eighth straight tournament under him.

Fair or not, however, it’s the celebrated tournament flops that cling to the discussion regarding Cottle, who has been stopped in the quarterfinals 13 times combined at Loyola and Maryland.

Think of the undefeated, top-seeded Loyola team that got whipped by Syracuse in the 1999 quarterfinals. Or the 2003 and 2005 Maryland teams that respectively got waxed by Virginia and Duke in the semifinals. Or the senior-laden, Joe Walters-led, 2006 team that rolled into the final four, only to shoot 5-for-43 and lay a huge egg against unseeded UMass.

This time, it might be different for the Terps. For starters, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and especially Syracuse -- who, along with Virginia, have won every title over the previous 18 years -- are gone.

And Maryland, 2-3 against the brutal ACC, has the depth, size, defense and scoring balance to make a serious run.

Get past the well-publicized attack of Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Travis Reed (combined 72 goals, 66 assists), and there are three lines of productive midfielders, featuring four players with at least 10 goals in Joe Cummings, John Haus, Adam Sear and Jake Bernhardt. And there is attackman/midfielder Will Yeatman, 6-foot-6 with 15 goals, who is healthy again and creating match-up problems.

The Terps have been excellent in transition, where LSM Brian Farrell shines. Senior faceoff man Bryn Holmes might be the toughest 5-7 player in the game. Maryland plays with poise, having erased sizeable deficits before beating Georgetown, Navy and Hopkins. Senior goalie Brian Phipps has been making big saves for four years.

It’s very tempting to predict Maryland will play either Duke or Virginia (I’m going with Duke) on Memorial Day, and that the Terps will find a way to beat a familiar opponent with the kind of depth built for a steamy afternoon and a two-day turnaround following the semifinals.

But Cottle and Maryland have to take care of other business first. They must make sure not to trip over the red carpet and fall flat in the doorway.

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