BALTIMORE — To his credit, John Tillman said exactly what I probably would have in the same situation.
Following the University of Maryland’s heartbreaking 9-7 loss to the University of Virginia in the NCAA Championship Game at M&T Bank Stadium, Tillman’s postgame comments were fair.
“Obviously, I am very disappointed for the 48 guys in our locker room ” the Terrapins’ head coach stated. “I couldn’t be more proud of the group that’s in there, not only as players but as people – the way they handled, really, the last 12 months. I’m just so disappointed for them. For all they’ve sacrificed – not only on the field and the time commitment, the things we’ve asked but for the way they’ve looked after each other. I think that’s probably the hardest thing is thinking about what they’ve invested and how they’ve done things.”
Tillman of course has every right to be proud, as his Terps reached Memorial Day for the first time since 1998, playing in the title game for only the 10th time in school history.
That being said, perhaps the comments of senior attackman Grant Catalino more appropriately reflected the emotions of Maryland fans throughout the region.
“Making the final was not our goal” said Catalino. “(Our goal) was to win it.”
It is important to point out the many good things that happened for the Maryland lacrosse team in 2011. In his first year since coming to College Park from Harvard, Tillman guided the Terps to their first Final Four since 2006. He claimed just the 5th ACC Tournament title in school history and beat all three other conference teams (Virginia, Duke and North Carolina) at least once during the campaign. By reaching the title game, he did something his predecessor (Dave Cottle) failed to do in nine seasons as head coach.
Frankly, the only things Tillman didn’t accomplish during his first season were a win over Johns Hopkins and a NCAA Championship.
Of course, those goals are probably the two Maryland fans are most desperate for.
The Terps should have an immediate bright future on the field, too. Despite losing senior contributors like Catalino, Attackmen Travis Reed & Ryan Young, Midfielders Dan Burns & Scott LaRue and Defenders Max Schmidt & Ryder Bohlander, they will return a talented team. Most notably, goalie Niko Amato will be just a sophomore and face-off specialist Curtis Holmes will be just a junior. Attackman Owen Blye will also just be a junior and will likely have the opportunity to see the team’s offense run through him.
Yet the reality is that despite the significant accomplishments of this Maryland team, the fact that they again fell short of claiming a NCAA Championship will leave an already fickle fan base even more frustrated.
There was a special amount of heartbreak in Monday’s game, as the game had the feel of a final title culmination for a long suffering program. In their last title game appearance (’98 at Rutgers), Maryland never showed any signs of life in a 15-5 blowout loss to Princeton. In their most recent trip to the Final Four (2006 in Philadelphia), the Terps looked particularly lethargic in an 8-5 loss to Massachusetts.
Monday’s game was much different than those.
Maryland lead for the bulk of the first two quarters before allowing the Cavaliers to score the final three goals of the first half and take a 5-3 lead. When things started to look bleak in the second half, the Terrapins put together a stretch of three unanswered goals to even things up at 6.
In front of a crowd of 35,561 fans that was predominantly made up of Maryland supporters, there was a real sense that “this team is different than those teams. This team can’t lose.”
Obviously that wasn’t the case. After tying things up, Maryland lost the next three face-offs. Virginia scored the next three goals. The Cavs whooped and hollered on the Charm City field when the clock read zero.
It was a feeling all too familiar for Maryland fans.
For Maryland lacrosse fans, a calendar is set by May heartbreak. Since defeating Navy in that 1975 title game, Maryland has lost NCAA Tournament games in seemingly every possible way. They’ve lost games as favorites. They’ve lost games as underdogs. They’ve lost games in blowout fashion. They’ve lost games that game down to the final possession. They’ve lost games where they blew big leads. They’ve lost games where they never had a lead.
The only type of game they haven’t experienced in the time period is a Memorial Day game that ended with a trophy hoisting.
It’s much too familiar.
Tillman will set about preparation to end the streak again in the Fall. Tillman made waves in his first offseason as head coach by installing new discipline-including early morning drills. He’ll likely continue those this Fall with the hopes that they can finally reach the Championship goals they rightly set for themselves every season.
For Maryland lacrosse fans, the offseason will be spent trying to look past another May heartbreak.
It won’t be easy. It never is.