FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Each of the past two years, Maryland men’s lacrosse had to speak first in the post-NCAA Championship press conference, as all losing teams must do.
“I remember two years ago being in here, and I think we were adjacent to Denver's locker room,” head coach John Tillman said Monday, minutes after being showered by falling confetti. “We could hear them celebrating, and it just...man, it just kind of ripped your heart out.”
This year, Tillman and his team got to speak second.
On a damp Memorial Day afternoon underneath five championship banners at Gillette Stadium, Maryland beat Ohio State to earn the title that had eluded this blue-blood program for 42 years.
Nine different Maryland teams have made it to the championship game since 1975, and all nine have come home empty handed. Not since Gerald Ford was this country’s president had a Maryland men’s lacrosse team experienced anything other than disappointment come season’s end. Those teams, as much as the current players and coaching staff, wanted to see their alma mater end the dry spell that spanned more than four decades.
That narrative was supposed to end last year in Philadelphia, with then-top-seeded Maryland taking on an unseeded but dangerous North Carolina team. After losing in overtime, though, the Terps would be forced to wait another year.
“There was a couple different ways we could go, and we could have let last year's loss basically impact this year,” Tillman said. “It speaks to the leadership of this group and their ability to kind of put things behind them, and move forward to give us a chance.”
Tim Muller, Maryland’s defensive leader and named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player this year, even acknowledged that the past year had been rough.
“But we knew as seniors that we had to come together this year and bring it together for us to get this National Championship,” Muller said.
All season, this group of student athletes answered questions about their failures in seasons past, with the lingering notion of whether or not they’d be the group to end the drought.
Those questions are over.
“We went out there today, we were playing and we saw a lot of alums,” senior Colin Heacock said with a segment of the championship net dangling from his backwards cap. “It felt great just to finish it and share that moment with them, and just for all the fans out there.”
Years prior, Maryland has stood idly by on the sidelines, forced to watch its opponents storm the field when the final buzzer sounds. Donning white throwbacks for the seventh straight game, it was finally time to run, not stand.
While Maryland’s season has come to a close, there remains some unfinished business for Tillman.
“I can't believe Heacock and Rambo remembered, but I made a bet with them that I'd get a tattoo if we won the championship,” Tillman said to the surprise of laughing reporters.
“I just can't believe those guys. They can't remember offensive plays and they remembered that.”
Tillman said the tattoo would be small, but Maryland’s championship is anything but.