The 2018 Maryland men’s lacrosse team will attempt to do something no past Terrapin men’s lacrosse team has accomplished before: repeat as NCAA National Champions.
After ending the 42-year drought of coming ever so close, the 2017 Maryland Terrapins enjoyed the perks that came with being the champions. Whether it was being honored at the Maryland football game, a Baltimore Orioles baseball game or even a visit to the White House, it was truly a great time for the student-athletes.
“We had to manage [rewarding] these guys that worked really hard, the staff, the administration, they deserved their moment in the sun,” head coach John Tillman said at spring sports media day. “Yet, we had to realize that last year’s seniors aren’t with us anymore. We can’t think anything will carry over.”
Last year’s senior group was one of the nations best. These included the all-time leading scorer in Maryland lacrosse history and Tewaaraton winner in Matt Rambo, the William C. Shmeisser Award for the nation’s top defender in Tim Muller, two-time captain and the first defensive player to gain USILA All-American accolades for two consecutive years since 1975 in Isaiah Davis-Allen and perennial attacking threat in Colin Heacock.
“It was not just the minutes they logged, it was setting a good example, communicating on the field and being good leaders off the field.” Tillman said. “We definitely have some guys that need to step up and fill those roles.”
One player that will be looked to fill one of those leadership positions on the team is senior midfielder Connor Kelly. Kelly’s 46 goals in 2017 were the most ever by a Maryland midfielder and he was among the last cuts for the US National team.
“It was an awesome experience meeting the greatest players in the country and to compete with the best was truly an honor,” Kelly said. “Learning the different nuances from the game whether that’s the picks or ball movement, I’ve sort of relayed the stuff I learned to the (rest of the team).”
Kelly was named one of the team’s five captains along with Dan Morris, Tim Rotanz, Bryce Young and Adam DiMillo.
“The last three years of awesome captains that I’ve had was great and I’m going to give everything I have to represent them and this university,” said Kelly. “The other guys have been tremendous on and off the field and have really helped me lead as well.”
Maryland will play the toughest schedules in the country for the third straight season. The Terps face key non-conference games against Navy, Notre Dame, North Carolina and Albany.
“When you play these teams and they are brand names, your kids get excited for that,” Tillman said. “Those teams will expose what you’re not good at and you hope to get those areas of weakness strengthened by the end of the season.
Dan Morris was a prime example of that last season. He came out of the gates and was a little inconsistent like anyone would be, but he settled down and really became a source of strength at the end of the season.”
Tillman also had to do some readjusting to the coaching staff after defensive coordinator Kevin Conry took the head coaching position with Big Ten rival Michigan and faceoff coach Chris Mattes went to the New England Patriots.
“There’s always going to be challenges, but I guess what’s helping us is that we’ve had so much change that we’re used to it,” said Tillman, who was an assistant coach himself for 15 years at Ithaca and Navy before becoming the head coach at Harvard. “You realize that any assistant coach investing a lot into the program and making a lot of sacrifices, their ultimate goal is to become a head coach and part of my job is to help them just like our players achieve their long-term goals.”
Tillman also remarked that current offensive coordinator J.L. Reppert is too good to stay on as an assistant forever, but he’s always ready for those changes.
“You just have to be very prepared and keep a list of ‘what if?’” Tillman said. “If these guys leave, what would I do? And hopefully be prepared and one step ahead.”
Maryland’s new defensive coordinator is former Terp All-American Jesse Bernhardt. Bernhardt, older brother of sophomore Jared, was a 2013 graduate and coached as an assistant in 2014 before joining with the Princeton and Rutgers staffs.
“We’re very excited Jesse Bernhardt is back,” Tillman said. “He knows the Terrapin experience here and that’s something that I can’t offer.”
“Coach Bernhardt has been huge for us,” Kelly said. “He went through everything we are going through, so he gives us a great perspective in his coaching role.”
With the reloaded coaching staff and new roles for different players, it won’t be an easy feat to repeat last year’s success. Still, the Terps have been selected favorites to win the Big Ten for the fourth consecutive year, and are No. 2 in the Inside Lacrosse rankings.
The Terps open up the season at home against Navy this Saturday at noon.
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