When head coach John Tillman recently posted on social media about the upcoming Maryland men’s lacrosse trip to California, former Terps goalie Kyle Bernlohr sent him a text of reminiscence.
“He basically said, ‘So jealous of you guys. Myself, Henry West and Jay and Charlie all say that week in 2015 was seriously the greatest time of our lives,’” Tillman said.
Bernlohr, who now plays professionally for his hometown Ohio Machine, was awarded with the 2015 Ensign C. Markland Kelly Jr. Award as the nation’s most outstanding goalie.
The No. 2 Terps, now halfway through the regular season, have a chance to unwind on spring break with a trip out west, as they will compete in the Pacific Coast Shootout against North Carolina this Saturday for the third time in the last four years.
“I really wasn’t inclined on going because why would you move the Carolina game from off your campus?” Tillman said. “You kind of lose that home-field advantage. Once we got here four years ago, the first time we did it, the kids were really happy and it was much more than a game.”
The Terps have taken full advantage of the cross-country trip as a great opportunity for some of the players to see the California scene, Tillman said. Freshman midfielder Ryder Mora, a Manhattan Beach, California native, will host the team at his house on Friday. Mora is joined by redshirt freshman midfielder and California’s high school lacrosse points-record setter Anthony DeMaio as the two Golden State representatives.
In years past, the players have bonded over team dinners, hanging out with alumni and even a visit to Coronado Naval Base to meet some Navy seals.
“We become more of a connected team because of the experience,” Tillman said. “A connected team … guys getting to know one another and play for each other, I think that does go a long way.”
Tillman compared the experience of getting to know his players with these midseason activities to a father forcing his son to open up about himself, adding, “we break down some barriers and I think the guys realize that they’re a lot more alike than they think they are.”
Alongside DeMaio and Mora, two other Terps have shown the promise of westward expansion for the sport of lacrosse. Freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman hails from Sandy, Utah, while junior midfielder Will Snider comes from Seattle, Washington.
Tillman noted that participating in the Pacific Coast Shootout isn’t only a great opportunity for team bonding, but also helps spark western interest in the sport. Whether it’s from two national powerhouses competing on the field or seeing guys like Matt Rambo sign autographs after the game, Tillman hopes a young fan in the stands of the game can grow to become a future lacrosse star.
“To me that’s kind of a neat thing to be a part of, especially as an older coach where you kind of step back and the game was so good to me and it’s been so much a part of my life,” Tillman said. “So anything we can do to get somebody excited about it, I get really excited about that.”
Still, even if competing in California entices more young players to play lacrosse, it’s still all about the relationships that are built through the game.
“You are recruiting, a lot of times, talented players,” Tillman said. “But if these guys are just about themselves and they’re not looking out for each other or aren’t playing hard for each other, I don’t feel like they are going to have the same experience, the same buy-in and I don’t think you are going to be as good.”
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