February 8, 2013

MD1 Notebook: Terps Crafting New Look in Quest for Elusive Title

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Maryland's Curtis Holmes is part of a nine-member senior class that has played in two straight national title games.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

University of Maryland coach John Tillman understands why so much is expected of the Terrapins. Maryland, which enters the 2013 season ranked No. 2, has played in the NCAA men's championship game for two straight years. The Terps, who have gone 37 seasons without a national title, return many key contributors from a year ago.

Yet Tillman still feels he has so much to learn about this year's edition.

"The big thing right now is creating the identity of the team we want to be," said Tillman, as the Terps were preparing for Thursday's preseason scrimmage at Princeton, five days before their season opener on Feb. 12 against Mount St. Mary's.

"We didn't lose a lot of players from last year, but we've lost some dominant personalities, some really important pieces. Our glue guys are gone," added Tillman, referring to such influential performers as Joe Cummings and Drew Snider, who led the attack and midfield. "We always talk about playing like Terps. In what ways do we excel? What's our personality? Do we need to button up, or do we let our hair down?"

Maryland, which made an impressive, late-season run with a young team that came up short against Loyola in the Division I title game — and did that a year after a senior-dominated squad took them to Memorial Day — certainly has plenty of familiar forces.

The nine-man senior class features the game-changing Jesse Bernhardt, arguably the best long-stick midfielder in the nation; the steady-scoring Owen Blye on attack; and midfielder John Haus, a complete player with maybe the highest lacrosse IQ on campus. The junior class is led by battle-tested goalie Niko Amato and Brian Cooper and Michael Ehrhardt, both tough interior defenders.

But these Terps are a pretty young bunch. Consider that, among its 48 players, Maryland is carrying a combined 28 freshmen and sophomores.

"My sophomore year, when we went to the final against Virginia, we had 17 seniors, so I've seen it go the other way," said senior midfielder and faceoff specialist Curtis Holmes.

"We're still a mature, experienced team, more so than last year, I think. We can't take it for granted, because we're ranked No. 2 and we've been to the championship game two years in a row. It's going to be interesting to see how we respond to having a bulls-eye on our backs."

At least the Terps are nearing full, healthy strength, after at least seven players — including Holmes, who had back surgery last summer — missed all or part of the fall season.

Loyola Will be Road Hounds

The Loyola Greyhounds are the defending national champions and the preseason No. 1 team in Division I. And yet, the Greyhounds will get precious little time to showcase their product at home this spring.

Loyola will play only five games at the Ridley Athletic Complex, and will appear just twice there after hosting Bellarmine on March 2. Seven of Loyola's last nine, regular-season games will be on the road. And the ECAC tournament — Loyola's last — will take place at Hobart in early May.

It's the first Hobart trip on April 20 that has the Greyhounds miffed. Although Toomey did not offer much comment on the matter, the Greyhounds privately are convinced that switching the site for the Hobart game — the Greyhounds were originally scheduled to host the Statesmen — is a little payback from the ECAC.

Loyola University announced nearly six months ago that it was joining the Patriot League, effective in the 2013-14 school year.

"I'm disappointed with the way it was handled. I'd better not say anything else," Toomey said. "But if there ever was a team that was built to travel, it's this one. We will have a bunker mentality."

March to Parity

With the new rules changes designed to speed up the pace of the game — quicker restarts, no substitution horns and a 30-second shot clock following stall warnings — the sport's most interesting stylistic change figures to center around the midfield position.

More specifically, how many two-way midfielders will be born in what has been such an age of specialization? How often will offensive midfielders will be left on the field for extended stretches to play defense?

An equally significant question centers around the decade-long march toward parity in Division I — a march that was punctuated by Loyola's first-ever national title in 2012. Remember, other than Duke in 2010, the Greyhounds were the only school not named Princeton, Syracuse, Virginia or Johns Hopkins to win an NCAA title since North Carolina did it in 1991.

The preseason rankings reflect the parity trend. When was the last time the season opened and Princeton (No. 15) and Syracuse (12) were outside the top 10, while Virginia (9) was that close to the bottom of it? Even Hopkins (No. 5) has missed the NCAA tournament final four for four straight seasons — the school's longest such drought since the tournament's inception in 1971.

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