March 2, 2011

Tillman to Terps: 'Don't Fall into the Trap'

by Gary Lambrecht |

Maryland poured in 20 goals against Georgetown, but is wary of a letdown against Duke, despite the Blue Devils' early-season struggles.

On Saturday, the third-ranked Maryland men's lacrosse team spent the final three quarters knocking Georgetown out of the rankings, while knocking the stuffing out of their cross-town rivals. When the carnage was over, Maryland's 20-8 thrashing became the biggest blowout in the series since the schools started playing each other regularly in 2003.

On Monday before practice, after the Terps (2-0) had digested a most satisfying performance, members of their senior-laden team started filing into the locker room, where they found a message from first-year coach John Tillman.

Strewn about the floor were a bunch of un-set mousetraps. Written on the chalkboard was the warning of the day: "Don't fall into the trap."

It's hard to imagine Maryland taking Duke lightly when the Atlantic Coast Conference combatants get busy in Durham on Saturday. Never mind that Duke, which is struggling with youth and an anemic offense, is trying to avoid its first, 1-3 start since 1985. Never mind that the Blue Devils, the defending national champions, are coming off a 7-3 loss to Penn that marked the first time Duke had been held to three goals since 1986.

Tillman, who replaced Dave Cottle after the 2010 season, was leaving nothing to chance -- which is pretty much the way Tillman has run things since he rolled out the balls for the first time in College Park last fall.

"[Tillman] knows that we know how to play lacrosse. He harps on doing the little things right. That's how he approached the fall and how he has approached this season," said sophomore midfielder Curtis Holmes, who torched the Hoyas by winning 20 of 31 faceoffs and producing one goal and two assists.

"Our goal is to win a national championship. Coach Tillman is more concerned with how are we going to win a national championship? It's the little things. Not letting us scoop any ground balls in practice with one hand. Making sure we touch every line on sprints. The energy level around here is so high. The tone is take it day-by-day, and we need to get better every day. We're feeling good, but we have to control it."

There is much to like about what's going on at Maryland. Led by the senior attack unit of Grant Catalino, Ryan Young and Travis Reed, the Terps are pushing the tempo aggressively on offense, and sharing and shooting the ball (48.6 percent) extremely well. Twenty-nine of their 36 goals have been assisted.

The banged-up midfield rotation is getting healthier, as senior Dan Burns hopes to return after missing the first two games. But Joe Cummings, Drew Snider, Owen Blye and John Haus (team-high six assists) have scored at least five points already, while Jake Bernhardt continues to show impressive athleticism between the boxes. Bernhardt could be a star waiting to emerge from a midfield that has lacked star power since Maryland last went to the NCAA tournament semifinals in 2006.

Defensively, redshirt freshman goalie Niko Amato is starting to answer some questions behind his more proven unit. Half of Amato's eight saves came early against Georgetown, which led 3-1, before caving in to an avalanche of fast-break goals started by Holmes.

Tillman, who earned a reputation as a strong recruiter and offensive coach as an assistant at Navy before taking on a rebuilding effort for three years as head coach at Harvard, has an interesting managerial task at Maryland.

He wants to give the players, especially the 14-man senior class, plenty of responsibility, but not too much room. He wants the offense to flow with creative spontaneity, but not too far outside the confines of his system. And he doesn't want his players, who are desperate to win the school's first NCAA crown since 1975, to think down the road past the next task.

"Stay hungry and stay humble. Don't break your arm patting yourself on the back. You become vulnerable when you think you're better than you are," Tillman said. "We've stuck our shots for two games. We'll see what happens when we run into a terrific goalie, or it's really cold and rainy. We'll see if the guys still buy into making the extra pass."

Holmes said the Terps are determined not to fall into any trap at Duke. The Blue Devils have averaged just five goals in their two losses, and were shut out in the first half against Penn. With talented players such as attackman Zach Howell and midfielder Justin Turri roaming the field for Duke, Holmes said the Terps know the deal that awaits them.

"It's Duke. It's going to be a dogfight. There's nothing else you really need to say," Holmes said. "We can't wait for Saturday."

"[Duke] is still trying to figure out who they are as an offense, but they are not dummies," Tillman added. "It seems like they've been to the final four a million years in a row. You know they are very athletic, and they're going to be very good. Our guys got to celebrate Georgetown for a day, but those 20 goals mean nothing now. This is going to be a test that tells us more about who we are."

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