Thursday, March 12 started out as a regular day for the Maryland men’s lacrosse coaching staff. Head coach John Tillman and his assistants were in their offices preparing for their upcoming contest against Virginia — the team that eliminated them from the NCAA Tournament the year prior.
Tillman glanced up to the nearest television in his office and saw that conference tournaments in college basketball were being canceled. It struck him then that the lacrosse season would be “put on hold, at least for now.”
“We’re not sure what’s going to happen,” Tillman told his group before they went out to practice. “Let’s just prepare like things are going to work out.”
The team held a practice on that Thursday that Tillman said had a “surreal feel” and “strange vibe”. Before the Terps were dismissed from the field, they received news that they would not be playing against Virginia on that upcoming Saturday. The coaching staff couldn’t give their players a definitive answer as to when they would be back and the team went their separate ways.
A day later, the Big Ten officially canceled spring sports due to concerns over the COVID-19 pandemic. Maryland’s season was effectively over, and the conclusion of practice on the day prior would be the final time the 2020 team was all together.
Concerns about how the Terps would get revenge on Virginia, shifted to how players would get home to see their families. Instead of wondering what awards senior Jared Bernhardt could have won, the question is now whether or not Bernhardt will return to Maryland with his extra year of eligibility.
Last fall, Bernhardt announced he would pursue a football career as a graduate transfer following his senior season. But after an unfinished senior season and some records within reach, that could change.
Granting seniors an extra year of eligibility seems like an easy fix, but it can present issues for head coaches.
“When it comes to an extra year, you’ve got to figure out whether families can afford the extra year,” Tillman said. “We have scholarship limitations right now. A lot of us have roster limitations. We have locker limitations..so there’s a lot to work through.”
Bernhardt, in particular, will be a fascinating case to watch. The senior had just cracked the top-five on the all-time goals list after notching four scores against Albany. With at least seven regular season games remaining, Bernhardt trailed all-time leader Matt Rambo by only 24 goals and was on pace to break the record.
“We don’t know if it’s an option for a fifth year and what would the circumstances be with that extra year so I am not sure anybody can really do anything right now,” Tillman said. “I think Jared, like everyone else, is waiting to hear what his options would be.”
If Bernhardt returns, Maryland’s dynamic offense would round into form again. Leading goal scorer Logan Wisnauskas along with Anthony DeMaio, Daniel Maltz and Bubba Fairman are all expected to return. The explosive offense amassed double figures in every contest, averaging 14 goals per game.
The offense was a part of many memorable comebacks in the abbreviated season. Against Richmond, the Terps trailed by as many as five goals in the fourth quarter before storming back. Against Penn, the Terps rallied from a six goal deficit to a 17-15 victory.
The slow starts caught up to them in a midweek loss at Villanova but the team responded well, taking down No. 5 Notre Dame and Albany in the following weeks. Upcoming games against Virginia, Penn State and Johns Hopkins would have shown what this team was truly capable of.
But still, Tillman feels like the team hadn’t hit their peak yet.
“We had a really good chance of playing our best lacrosse at the end of the year,” Tillman said. “I felt like the kids were really committed to just trying to get better and keep improving.”
There were many great on the field moments for Maryland, but what Tillman said he will miss most are some of the things that happened off the field. Like the trip they took to Ground Zero after scrimmaging at Cornell in the fall. Or how the team collectively shaved their heads in an effort to raise $48,000 for cancer awareness.
“I just really like this group. I love being around them. They are a great group,” Tillman said. “When you have the seniors that we had, there weren’t a lot of ego issues. Guys were playing hard, they were playing selflessly.”