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Maryland men’s lacrosse leaning into underdog mentality entering NCAA Tournament

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After going from the No. 1 seed in 2018 to unseeded in 2019, the Terps are embracing their new identity.

Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Penn State Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

In 2012, Maryland men’s lacrosse looked a lot different from what it is now. John Tillman was in just his second season as head coach, Drew Snider and Jesse Bernhardt (both older brothers of current Terps) were leading the first midfield line, and the Terps were still searching for their first NCAA title since the mid-1970s.

Since then, Tillman has maintained the standard set by his predecessor, Dave Cottle, taking Maryland to the Final Four in seven out of his first eight seasons. The Terps and Tillman would go on to capture that elusive title in 2017, and have entered last three NCAA Tournaments as the No. 1 seed.

This year, Maryland enters the tournament unseeded for the first time since that second season under Tillman, setting the Terps up for a first-round road game. But after some drama regarding whether it would even make the 17-team field, Maryland is grateful for its opportunity to compete for another title.

“It’s 0-0, we made it to where we want to get to,” Tillman said. “It’s all what we do with it now, because you did what you needed to do to get there. None of that carries over, whether you had a great year or maybe you didn’t do some of the things you wanted to do. It’s what you do next and that’s kind of our mindset.”

Maryland ended up being one of the final few teams to make the cut for the NCAA Tournament, falling from the Division I graces after losing to Johns Hopkins twice in consecutive weeks. Those losses put their tournament chances in jeopardy and almost certainly made their road to Memorial Day weekend more difficult, but now, the Terps can simply focus on preparing for the tournament opener.

“After losing these last two games to Hopkins, we’ve kinda had to reset and look ourselves in the mirror,” sophomore midfielder Bubba Fairman said. “I think the last two days of preparation have really been big for us. We’ve come out with some energy, we’ve done some different drills, done some different things on offense and defense to help us move forward.”

For a team that was a mainstay in the top 10 for most of this season, entering the postseason unseeded was an unexpected turn of events. But with a shot at running the table still ahead of them, the Terps are embracing the role of the underdog.

“Being the underdog is never a bad thing,” Fairman said. “We’ve been fortunate enough for all the players to have come before us to set the precedent on how to play, but for us, we’ve kinda just gotten away from that and now we are the underdog because of that, so I think we just need to get back to playing like Terps.”

But the Terps are going in as underdogs for a reason. They’ve shown that they have the talent of a top team all season, but the last two weeks have exposed some of their flaws. Regardless of how it’s perceived, Maryland knows it has to approach this next matchup with the same mindset as any other.

“Everyone’s gonna spin it, we’re the underdogs this weekend, whatever, we’re the underdogs if we keep going on,” senior defender Curtis Corley said. “We can’t look at like Towson coming in as just another team, we gotta look at them as, ‘Hey this is the team we’re playing this week.’ We gotta prepare just the way we’ve prepared every other week and just keep going at it.”

The Terps are one of five teams from the state of Maryland to be selected for the tournament, with Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Towson and UMBC each receiving bids to the sport’s biggest stage. Maryland-Towson is the only matchup pitting two of those teams against each other, so the Terps will have an extra point to prove.

“We’ll definitely stir the pot, they’ll stir the pot back at us, they’ll get their runs and we’ll get ours,” Corley said, “but we’ll look for a really good game on Sunday.”