The Maryland's men's lacrosse team is in familiar territory, and that confidence could bode well for the Terps, who are looking to defend their national championship.
The Terps (14-3) are in the Final Four for seventh time in the last eight years under head coach John Tillman. Maryland ended 42 years of frustration and nine championship game losses to win that elusive national title last year, and the moment still resonates with Tillman.
"We know what that title meant to so many people here, and we've seen that the last 12 months," Tillman said in a conference call with the media this week. "Just seeing the expressions on the faces after the game ... We had alums crying in the stands. Families crying. It meant a lot to them. It meant a lot to the state. It meant a lot to the school."
The Terps entered the season fully focused on defending that championship. Once the season started, there was no more reflecting on last year's title run.
It was time to create a new legacy.
"More than anything else, it was a matter of going back to work and not patting ourselves on the back," Tillman said.
The Terps have been a balanced squad that is scoring 11.9 goals per game and allowing just 9.2. Senior midfielder Connor Kelly leads the attack with 45 goals and 33 assists for 78 points. He is a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award, which is college lacrosse's equivalent to the Heisman Trophy Award.
Sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt is second on the team with 54 points (38 goals, 16 assists), followed by redshirt freshmen midfielder and Boys' Latin alum Logan Wisnauskas with 47 points (33 goals, 14 assists).
Tillman has been impressed by the way his team has responded with a bullseye on its back. The Terps had to replace several key players lost to graduation, most notably attackman Matt Rambo, who won Tewaaraton Award last season.
Maryland beat Robert Morris, 14-11, in the first round of the NCAA Tournament and Cornell, 13-8, in the quarterfinals to advance to the Final Four.
"We had a lot of veteran players last year and a lot of guys who logged a lot of minutes," Tillman said. "To come back this year with a group that had a lot of potential yet had to take a little bit of a backseat to a very veteran group, there was a lot of work that needed to be done and a lot of growth needed to happen. That certainly wasn't their fault. They just had such a great group in front of them. To see the leadership grow day-by-day and week-by-week and to see guys blossom and for this senior class to get us back to the Final Four, I'm so proud of them."
Maryland will face a tough test against fourth-seeded Duke, which is led by senior attackman Justin Guterding who leads the nation with 3.39 goals per game. The Blue Devils beat Villanova, 17-11, and fifth-seeded Johns Hopkins, 14-9, to advance to the semifinals.
Maryland will not deviate from its strategy of playing solid lacrosse at both ends of the field, dictating play and paying close attention to the finest details.
"I just focus on small things, trying to do the best we can day-in and day-out," Tillman said. "Winning a championship is certainly one of the goals we have here. But that is a byproduct of doing things right. We're developing young people and getting them ready for the rest of their lives. You can't cut corners on that."
Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Saturday, May 26
No. 3 Yale vs. No. 2 Albany, noon
No. 4 Duke vs. No. 1 Maryland, 2:30 p.m.
Division III National Championship
Sunday, May 27
Salisbury vs. Wesleyan (Conn.), 1 p.m.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics