Maryland had jumped out to a blistering 7-0 start to the season, including very impressive wins over Syracuse and Duke. They were the #1 team in the country and flying high, but hit a bit of a roadblock on Saturday in Chapel Hill. Maryland committed 15 TO's and Niko Amato struggled in cage, taking an 11-8 loss to the North Carolina Tar Heels. Maryland was also undefeated and #1 when they welcomed UNC to Byrd Stadium last season and lost. That eventually set off a disappointing end that saw Maryland get routed in the ACCT by a Virginia team that missed the tournament, lose at home to a Johns Hopkins team that missed the tournament, and get dominated by Cornell in the 1st Round of the NCAA's.
Maryland can't have that happen again. This team looks better poised for a deeper run, and has a lot of potential. The Carolina loss won't kill this season. It won't even necessarily be a big dent in our season.....IF Maryland reacts the right way, and improves and is on a high heading into the NCAA Tournament.
John Tillman started his press conference with a note on how "You wouldn't know it's spring if you looked outside right now". Seriously, let's go spring. Pretty sure we're going to have snow at the ACC Tournament in Philadelphia next month. Anyhow, he continued by saying "We obviously would of liked to got 3/3 on spring break, but got 2 wins and obviously a disappointing loss at Chapel Hill on Saturday" but pointed out that they had to bounce back quickly vs UVA on Sunday. Discussing the Carolina game he said he felt like they got off to a "decent start" and said that Maryland had a "couple breakdowns" and that "they capitalized on our mistakes very well, and that's the sign of a good team".
He moved onto some positives mentioning that they scored a few transition goals and the performance of his young guys was good but also said he felt "there were some teachable moments there, but we have to move on and improve this week to beat a young, talented, and athletic Virginia team that looked good against what we feel is a good Johns Hopkins team". In response to a question on if a loss like the UNC one could be good to temper expectations, Tillman said he felt they've handled the expectations well and they've been a grounded team for awhile.
We've now reached the half way point of the season and it's definitely fair to say that Maryland has looked very good. But the key for this team vs Virginia on Saturday, and down the stretch this year, is production on offense. Maryland's a very talented offensive group, with dangerous weapons. But they've been a bit over-reliant on Mike Chanenchuk, and while we have seen a good diversity in the goalscoring, they did show trouble breaking down a very good North Carolina defense on Saturday. Maryland has to progress as an offensive team if they want to go far in May, and the pieces are there. That's a biggie that has to start on Sunday and has to continue.
Possessions will come for Maryland. The Terps are a possession machine. Raffa is terrific at the X, Niko Amato is a fantastic goalie, they have a great clearing game and defense. They will get tons of possessions in a game. That's why they have to take advantage of those opportunities in ways they didn't vs UNC where they committed 15 TO's. To better explain what Maryland's done well and what they need to continue doing, here's a note from Hoya Suxa over at College Crosse, SB Nation's lacrosse site (required reading):
Here's what's impressive about the Terrapins' offense this season: (1) The Terps are doing this with a handful of fresh faces in prominent roles, and (2) Mike Chanenchuk is carrying a ton of responsibility for Maryland's offense and the team is delivering. Now, Maryland hasn't seen a lot of great defenses so far this season (the team's schedule ranks just 51st in opposing defenses faced), but the Terrapins are still dicing opposing defenses to pieces while creating an offensive identity. If the Terrapins continue to develop as the season progresses, Maryland could have on its hands the impetus for a deep run in May given the fact that the offense is working with a fat possession advantage in its favor (only three teams have a stronger possession margin than the Terps).
The Virginia game is basically a microcosm of what Maryland probably will be facing down the stretch. Virginia is not a very good defensive team. They're not a great team at the face-off X. Virginia is a very good offensive team with numerous threats including Mark Cockerton, James Pannell, and Owen Van Arsdale. All these guys have great skillsets that give you issues. They've also improved their play in 1 goal games and have won a flurry of them this year.
Virginia gives you problems when they can get a good performance out of their goalie Matt Barrett, who hasn't had a great year, with a .462 sv%. They look for him to make some saves, and then counter you very quickly and score goals. James Pannell is deadly as a finisher, Cockerton has a terrific sniper of a shot, and Van Arsdale is a terrific feeder. They want to go back and forth and trade goals with you and look to pip you at the end. That's what UVA does so well. They did it to Johns Hopkins this past weekend, and they did it to Loyola in their opening game. They scored a ton of goals, built a huge lead, and got the final chance late and won the game.
But they showed some vulnerabilities in ugly losses to Cornell and Notre Dame. In their match-up with Cornell, Doug Tesoriero won a flurry of FO's, built up a possession margin for Big Red and they peppered Barrett and built a healthy lead. Notre Dame did a very similar thing. They played make it take it lacrosse. Score, get the FO, score again. Simple. UVA doesn't have the lock down defenders teams like Notre Dame and Maryland have. They give up 11 goals a game, well outside the Top 30 in defense. With Maryland having a fat possession margin, they can light up the scoreboard, IF they take care of the ball and get various offensive contributors.
The Carolina loss hurt. It was a disappointing loss and frustrating. But this young Maryland team can easily turn it into a learning experience and get better. They have the pieces for a deep run and to be a very dangerous team. It's about nurturing those pieces and polishing the diamond that they have. That starts vs Virginia. Virginia can pose threats offensively, but Maryland's got the pieces to get a very nice W and they should do that. It's also a rivalry game, and the last conference meeting between the two teams. It's a big game, and one Maryland can use as a building block for a deep run in May.
Face-Off is slated for Noon on Sunday. ESPNU once again will have TV coverage. And it's at home. if you can get out to the game, make sure too and be in full voice for the Terps. If not, settle in at home and root them on as they continue towards the conference and national tournaments and some big games in April and May.