By this date last year, Maryland men's lacrosse had defeated Yale and North Carolina to earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament's Final Four. Fueled by a punishing defense anchored by Kelly Award winning goalie Kyle Bernlohr, all Maryland's offense had to was score just enough to edge its opponents. With an attack led by then-sophomore Matt Rambo, who'd finish the season with 40 goals and 19 assists, it seemed as if that task wasn't too hard to accomplish.
But the Terps 10-5 loss to the Denver Pioneers in the championship game solidified what many saw as a crucial weakness all season: a lack of weapons. What came as such an initial shock, isn't too surprising if you look close enough.
Last year's postseason
It started with the 2015 Big Ten tournament, where the Terps lost 9-6 to Ohio State at home. At that point, it was their worst offensive outing of the year.
Then in the 8-7 win over Yale in the first round, Maryland faced a three-goal deficit early in the fourth quarter. The eventual four-goal comeback is certainly the takeaway from that game, but don't ignore the fact that the Terps entered a crucial quarter in the NCAA Tournament with just four goals either.
Despite those warning signs, Maryland advanced to the title game riding a wave of confidence as the tournament's No. 6-seed. But the Terps came crashing back to reality, putting up only five goals to support Rambo's team-leading two. In critical game defining moments, it became clear there wasn't enough firepower to sustain a championship-worthy performance.
Plus, this isn't even uncharacteristic for Maryland teams
During head coach John Tillman's tenure, the Terps have failed to put up more than seven goals in all three of their championship appearances, sinking as low as three in 2012. There has always been an emphasis on defense at Maryland, but a well-balance offense has consistently stymied the Terps' hopes of winning the season finale.
Fast forward to 2016, and that storyline no longer exists.
So, what's different?
Maryland finally has a bevy of second-option scorers that can emerge at any time, taking pressure off Rambo and making it virtually impossible for opponents to prepare.
Connecticut native Connor Kelly exploded for three goals against North Carolina in last year's tournament, showing what made him such an upside recruit for Tillman. He's since emerged as a a dynamic scoring threat, currently third on the team with 24 goals and 12 assists.
Attackman Tim Rotanz suffered from vertigo after his freshman campaign, forcing him to redshirt and completely miss his sophomore season. Midfielder Lucas Gradinger had to follow suit, suffering a season ending injury in the second game of the season. Both returned to the field this season, combining for 15 goals and nine assists to add a healthy dose of youth to the offense.
Transfer senior Pat Young has brought more than three years of experience from nearby UMBC, he brings a new level of athleticism to the offense. At 6'1 and 205 pounds, he's a force at the midfield that plays with the grit of a running back. After a four-goal performance in Maryland's win over Syracuse in this year's quarterfinals, he's got 15 on the season while reaching 100 for his career.
Combine all that with the growth of junior Colin Heacock, who has more than doubled his goal production from last year (now 37), and you've got a totally revamped offense that has only gotten better as the season progressed.
The Terps are no stranger to the limelight of what's to come next weekend. They know what's at stake, they know what history has to say, but it's a whole new ballgame.
Tillman has the offensive depth needed to make that last hurdle, and can end the program's 41-year championship drought if the offense plays to it's fullest capabilities. Now, it's just a matter of execution.