41 years is a long time to wait. That was the last time that Maryland men's lacrosse won a national championship. Back in 1975, the average price of a gallon of gas was 57 cents and it cost a dime to mail a letter. Gerald Ford also took over as president during the 1974-1975 season.
A lot has changed since 1975; the same year that Jaws was released. Some things, however, never change. Maryland is still one of the best men's lacrosse programs in the country. The Terps have made it to the Final Four 18 times since 1975. They've made the final eight times, and eight straight times they've been turned away.
18 times in 40 years. That breaks down to 45 percent. That means that on average, Maryland makes the Final Four just about every other season and makes the final every five years. In John Tillman's five years at the helm, Maryland has made it to the Final Four four times and made the final three times. The Terps are consistently getting legitimate shots at the title. This year's team has the look of a squad that could bring the national championship back to College Park for the first time since SNL premiered.
Seventh-ranked Navy came to College Park having won seven straight games, but left with a 10-5 loss. The Midshipmen scored double digit goals in all seven of those wins, but Maryland shut them down. Navy tied their season-low in goals in a game with five and didn't record a single assist. Did the Midshipmen sink themselves (pun intended) with their season-high 18 turnovers? Absolutely, but Maryland's scoring defense still ranks in the top 10 in the nation. Kyle Bernlohr was last season's National Goalie of the Year. He looks even sharper this season. Tim Muller, Greg Danseglio and Matt Dunn have all been consistently great this season.
Danseglio said that last season's success is not a given. "We're not going to get there by showing up to practice and throwing the ball around...Some of those guys that you don't see in the box score are key elements to this team. That really helps us in practice and helps prepare us for these games. Danseglio added that the coaches' passion makes them want to live up to the "Maryland standard".
So Maryland's tough, physical defense is one of the reasons that the Terps might win their first title since Saigon fell to the NVA.
Matt Rambo, who is second on the team in goals, was held scoreless, but the Terps still scored 10 goals against Navy, a team that came into the game with the nation's third-ranked scoring defense. There have been some games this season where the Terrapins have relied on just a few players to do the heavy lifting. Maryland spread the wealth on offense on Tuesday night. Colin Heacock, Connor Kelly, Tim Rotanz and Henry West had two goals apiece while Lucas Gradinger and Louis Dubick each scored a goal.
So Maryland's balanced offensive attack is another one of the reasons that the Terps might win their first title since The Godfather: Part II won the Oscar for Best Picture.
Rick Sowell, Navy's head coach, said Maryland is arguably the best team in the country right now. That might be a bit premature because top-ranked Notre Dame, who beat Maryland head-to-head earlier in the season, and defending national champion Denver are both great teams with few if any weaknesses.
"We're getting into April. We really need to start playing a complete 60 minutes," Tillman said after the game. "To go where we want to go, it's going to take 60 minutes because there are so many good teams. This was one of our better performances."
That focus is critical. That drive and desire to live up to the "Maryland standard" is why the Terrapins might win the national championship for the first time since since Muhammad Ali bested Joe Frazier in the "Thrilla in Manilla".
And then there's John Tillman. The steady and stoic leader of the Terps has gotten them to the final weekend of the season four times in his five years at Maryland. Maryland doesn't have to dominate to win a national championship for the first time since Angola became an independent country. The Terps will have to play hard and they will have to play Maryland-style lacrosse for a full 60 minutes. Tonight was one such example. The Terrapins can beat you in a plethora of ways. Tillman knows that, but he also knows that the Terps don't have to be perfect in order to win a national championship for the first time in over four decades.
"It wasn't a work of art...We just played better from start to finish and that's all we could hope for."