BALTIMORE Rarely will a 1 goal win over a team that sits squarely on the bubble of the NCAA Tournament mean this much. After all, teams ranked in the Top 5 probably should win neutral site games against .500 opponents.
Yet Maryland’s 10-9 win over Johns Hopkins Saturday night at M&T Bank Stadium has the feel of something much more important.
There is absolutely no doubt that this Terrapins squad SHOULD have beaten this Blue Jays squad. The Terps have been a Top 5 team throughout the season and have wins over the likes of Georgetown & Duke, while the Jays have been in the area of .500 throughout the season and no wins better than Delaware or Siena.
That being said, wins over Duke and Georgetown have not wholly pacified a fan base in College Park and throughout the state that admittedly carries a sense of entitlement that has outweighed the performance of the program.
“Duke? Great. Georgetown? Great too. But what happened against Hopkins?”
Johns Hopkins will absolutely not be the best team Maryland will play this season. In fact, the Blue Jays will likely not be amongst the five best teams Maryland plays this season. But no team works as a measuring stick for Maryland quite the same way Hopkins does.
Consider that even with the win Saturday night at the 2nd annual “Day of Rivals” event, Maryland merely cut JHU’s all-time advantage in the series to 67-38-1.
The rivalry had been particularly lop-sided as of late. The Jays had won 3 straight, and 12 of the last 15 against Maryland before Saturday night. Even Maryland coach Dave Cottle admitted after the game that “you can’t have a rivalry if one team never wins.”
I guess it can be considered a rivalry again.
Cottle’s statement reflects something more significant when it comes to the series, however. Whether he wants to delve too far into it or not, his teams will always be judged not just by how they finish the season, but also by how they perform against Hopkins.
Before Saturday night, the Terrapins had won just 1 of their 8 meetings with Hopkins under Cottle. Combining that with a failure to reach the Final Four over the last 3 seasons-and Cottle faced plenty of scrutiny not only from fans-but from analysts and columnists throughout the region, present company included.
Whether Cottle wants to delve into it or not, the Hopkins game will always be part of the way his performance is judged as lacrosse coach at Maryland.
It may be nothing more than a desire to not be judged on a resume that lacks success in this series, but Cottle attempted to dismiss the significance following the game, toeing the line of “every week is a rival” and suggesting that Hopkins can’t be distinguished from a schedule that includes the likes of Virginia and Navy.
And while Cottle is correct to suggest that Maryland plays a number of big games during their season-NONE are as significant as Johns Hopkins.
It was easy to sense that on the faces of senior Travis Reed (Boys Latin), Junior Brian Farrell (Boys Latin-and whose father Mike Farrell was an All-American defender at Maryland) and senior Brian Phipps (Severn, and admittedly a big Baltimore Ravens fan). They all knew what they had done Saturday night was more significant than other games. Both Phipps and Farrell even mentioned the disdain they had for Hopkins growing up as Maryland fans.
This game just means more.
For Cottle, it means a respite from those who had approached or crossed the line of “he’s never going to make it work here.”
John Cooper was 111-43-4 during his career as the football coach at Ohio State. Yet his firing in Columbus was widely believed to be more of a reflection on his 2-10-1 record against Michigan than it was any other factor.
Ohio State had other big games, and regularly beat the likes of Penn State, Wisconsin, and Iowa. But one game on the Buckeyes’ schedule meant more than the others.
That’s the neighborhood Dave Cottle had been approaching as a head coach. While wins against other big teams are nice, his record against Johns Hopkins had begun to define him as a head coach.
That criticism won’t disappear, but it also won’t hang over the program during the most important stretch of the season.
The Terrapins still have to prove that they are an ACC or NCAA Championship contender. They’ll host the ACC Tournament at Byrd Stadium next weekend, starting Friday night at 7:30 against a North Carolina team that handed them a 9-7 defeat in Chapel Hill on March 27th. Should they beat the Tar Heels, they would face the Duke-Virginia winner Sunday afternoon at 3:30. It will likely be the Cavaliers, who handed Maryland their only other defeat this season; 11-10 on April 3rd in College Park.
Beating Johns Hopkins is just the first step for Dave Cottle’s team. Winning another ACC Championship, returning to the Final Four and finally breaking through for the school’s first national championship in over 30 years are all significant goals that fans of the Terrapins will want to see reached.
However, this is a major first step. If the ultimate goal for Cottle’s Terrapins is 8 stories high, they likely climbed the first 3 just with their win Saturday night alone.
A win that was little more-on paper-than a closer than expected contest against an young opponent that has not lived up to expectations Sunday.
In this sport, only a Hopkins-Maryland game could mean so much.