April 14, 2010

Terps Think They've Found Right Midfield Mix

by Patrick Stevens | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Lambrecht: No They Haven't; Questions Linger for Maryland

Joe Cummings has found a home on Maryland's first midfield line, where he sees more time than on an overcrowded attack.

Dave Cottle began the season with a surplus of attackmen, an injured but athletic defensive short stick and plenty of uncertainty about his starting midfield.

Two months later, everything is sorting itself out.

The Terrapins (7-2) enter Saturday’s meeting with Johns Hopkins (5-5) at Baltimore’s M&T Bank Stadium with some semblance of continuity on its first midfield line.

It’s just not how things were initially envisioned.

Sophomore Jake Bernhardt is arguably the mainstay of the line, but that’s simply because he started the season there. The last two weeks, converted attackman Joe Cummings and junior Dan Burns (a mainstay on Maryland’s defensive midfield) joined him to create a revamped starting unit.

“Each week, we’ve gotten better,” Burns said. “Each of us brings something different to the table. Jake’s a great athlete, can dodge and usually gets the pole matchup. Cummings is such a good inside finisher.”

And Burns is a catalyst Maryland hoped to utilize much earlier in the season.

He was one of the Terps’ best players in the fall, but a hamstring injury shelved him in February. Maryland gradually worked him back into its short stick rotation against UMBC and North Carolina before coach Dave Cottle made Burns an offensive middie early this month.

The payoff came Saturday, when Burns comfortable shifted from defense to offense to score in transition late in the third quarter to extend the Terps’ lead over Navy to 9-7. Maryland went on to win 11-9.

“I thought it was the first week that Danny Burns was Danny Burns,” Cottle said.

Cummings’ addition to the midfield wasn’t influenced by injury, but it was possible to see his shift coming as well.

Maryland’s greatest preseason asset was its attack unit. Grant Catalino and Will Yeatman are both powerfully built, and Travis Reed possesses a strong shot. Ryan Young is a steady stalwart, leaving
Cummings as a talented player caught in a numbers game.

Catalino’s played some midfield, Yeatman even more. Either way, it was difficult figuring out how to best exploit the talent in the program, though Cummings was at least familiar with midfield from
playing there last year and sporadically early this season.

“That’s not a problem, but a situation we’ve dealt with,” Catalino said. “We have five or six very talented attackmen who all can play. I started at midfield, and now I’m back on attack. Will’s at middie, he’s back on attack. We’re still trying to figure out the best way, but Joey is a big asset to our team.”

After tinkering for a couple months, Cottle realized it was probably best to invest in more mobile midfielders. That meant Catalino and Yeatman would remain on attack for good, and it opened up a spot for Cummings, who had a goal and an assist against Navy.

“We felt like one of our best players wasn’t getting on the field enough, and that’s why we moved him to midfield last week,” Cottle said. “We have to play him more, and we’ve decided we’re going to do that.”

Although some guys are still modestly out of position, it is arguably the most orthodox lineup the Terps have fielded this year. Cummings made it a point to learn both attack and midfield in high school and again in college, making him perhaps the best candidate to move between units.

“I’m enjoying it. Running with Bernie and Dan Burns, we’re all lacrosse players out here,” Cummings said. “It’s fun to play with guys that are very talented and very athletic.”

There is a gamble in switching up the offense so dramatically in the middle of the season, but in some ways this unit minimizes risk. Bernhardt and Burns can play both ways if needed, ensuring the Terps are more likely to avoid unfavorable situations on defense.

Maryland’s also put together a line filled with players who understand how to fit into the Terps’ system -- as good a thing as any at removing the uncertainty surrounding Maryland’s season-long
revolving first midfield line.

“We know each other’s strengths and weaknesses,” Burns said. “All of the plays we set up, we try to make sure everyone can get to their strength. With all of us being good at different areas, it allows us to get to those different areas of the field where we can succeed. I think that’s a big factor in that equation.”

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