BALTIMORE — When the Maryland Terrapins face the Virginia Cavaliers this Monday, it will really be just a lacrosse game between two familiar ACC foes.
Well, except for the fact that we all know if will be so much more than that.
With their 9-4 defeat of Duke Saturday in front of 45,039 at M&T Bank Stadium in the NCAA Lacrosse Tournament Final Four, the University of Maryland stands on the cusp of their first NCAA Championship since 1975.
If you’re a casual lacrosse fan who wasn’t aware of that, I’m sure you’re about as stunned about that fact as I was when I first really got into lacrosse.
And that was 18 years ago.
While first year head coach John Tillman and this incredible group of veteran Terps deserve great praise for the outstanding season they’ve put together after the sudden (but not all that stunning) dismissal of former head coach Dave Cottle following their quarterfinal loss to Notre Dame a season ago, simply getting back to Memorial Day for the first time since 1998 likely won’t be enough for a fanbase that believes they should be competing annually for national championships.
(This will be tough to do for most Terrapin supporters-but give former Athletic Director Debbie Yow credit. She made the move to dismiss Cottle and hire Tillman. Maryland fans were disappointed the school couldn’t get Notre Dame’s Kevin Corrigan or Cornell’s Jeff Tambroni-who went to Penn State. Just one season in, it already looks like a good move. Cottle might have been able to guide this group to a Charm City title game appearance, but Tillman did. It’s noteworthy.)
The fact is that Maryland will either claim just their third national championship Monday or will suffer a loss in either the semifinals or final for the 21st time in program history.
It’s one game, but the outcome of the one game will make all of the difference for a fickle fanbase that believes Final Fours are a birthright and national championships should be won regularly.
You can’t win national championships regularly until you get rid of a pesky drought that now approaches four decades of despair.
It’s not necessarily fair to hand 36 years of frustration to a group of young men that mostly had no idea they’d ever don a Maryland jersey until some point in the last five years. That being said, these young men will have the chance to cement their collective legacies by putting an end to this horrible streak.
Like I said, no pressure.
Senior attackman Grant Catalino didn’t attempt to hide from the pressure following the game. “It’s kind of a feeling that you’re playing for the teams that have played here the last 30 years” said Catalino, noting that the former players have shown his team great support.
When they take the field Monday, the Terrapins will be playing for not only every student athlete that has taken the field over the last 36 years, but every alum and fan that has rooted for them in that time period as well.
They’ll be playing for every supporter in the area that has exclaimed “we’re the biggest school in the state that is the home of the sport! Why can’t we win in lacrosse?”
They’ll be playing for everyone who supported the great players during the eras when Cottle and Dick Edell got close, but couldn’t get over the hump.
It will be one game against one opponent, but it will mean so much more.
For his part, Tillman has attempted to convey to his team that the drought-while lengthy-isn’t a burden but rather an opportunity to do something that would be meaningful for the entire state.
“It would mean so much to everybody (to win a title)” said Tillman after the game, “that it makes us work harder.”
Standing in the way will be Virginia, a program that has won three national championships since Maryland last played for a title. Coached by Dom Starsia, the Cavs have certainly taken advantage of the fact that the Terrapins haven’t exactly been a dominant power in recent years. In the process, Starsia has become the winningest coach in the history of Division I lacrosse.
The Terrapins overwhelmed the Wahoos 12-7 in Charlottesville back on April 2nd in the only meeting this season between the teams. While Maryland has certainly been better down the stretch (avenging regular season losses to North Carolina and Duke by beating both twice now down the stretch, also stunning Syracuse in Foxborough in the quarterfinals), so has Virginia. It was evident in the Cavaliers’ 14-8 dismantling of Denver in Saturday’s first semifinal.
Unlike the Terrapins, the Cavaliers aren’t playing against 36 years of unfortunate history.
But if John Tillman’s message has been received correctly, the Terrapins aren’t actually playing against their own history, but rather building for a celebration that’s been 36 years in the making.