Welcome to the final regular edition of the 2011 Maryland Men's Lacrosse Blog. This week we'll wrap up the season with a look back at an incredible championship weekend, including an tremendous turnout by Terp alums, and sending out some thank you's.
Losing stinks. There's no other way to put it and it's a part of why sports are so special - the highs are so incredibly high that they make the lows that much harder to take. But, let's have some perspective and appreciate what the Terps accomplished this year. The loss hurts, but this team has a lot to be proud of this season.
Leading Up To Championship Weekend
We'll start with some of the pregame stuff and work our way to Monday's game.
The week kicked off for the team with open media sessions on Monday and Wednesday. As you can imagine, interest in the program and the players was at an all-time high and nearly every local media outlet sent someone out to cover the Terps. As they have done all year, the guys handled themselves with poise and maturity and represented themselves, the University, the state and the program very, very well.
Thursday was the team's final practice in College Park and the Terps traveled the 30 or so miles north up I-95 to Baltimore for the NCAA banquet. From what the guys said the food was good (I didn't have time to eat), but the only problem was the mandatory 15 minute media session was during the meal, so some guys had to rush a bit to make sure they got through their meal while it was still warm.
After the media time, which was fairly light considering how much we did prior to going up to Baltimore, Coach Tillman and seniors Dan Burns, Brian Farrell, Grant Catalino and Ryan Young hung back to record some video board messages for the games (if you were at the stadium you know what I'm talking about). These are the types of things most guys don't really like, especially considering little to no guidance is given by the NCAA before being put on the spot, but the guys tried to have a little bit of fun with it and did a pretty good job. As usual, the outtakes were better than what was used.
The highlight of the banquet for all four teams was an appearance by Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh. Of course the guys (from all of the teams), a lot of whom are huge Ravens fans, tried to keep up an air of toughness and didn't want to come off like fans, were a tough room, but eventually loosened up for Coach Harbaugh as he worked his way around the room to each table.
At least that's what I was told. I was still in the media area with Coach Tillman as he generously spent as much time with members of the media as they wanted. By the time we made our way back to the banquet area the only two people left were Mark Burdett, the Ravens' vice president of corporate sales and a Maryland men's lacrosse alum, and Coach Harbaugh. The four of us talked for about 20 minutes or so and it was interesting to hear Coach Tillman and Coach Harbaugh talk about coaching and taking over veteran teams and the challenges that go along with it.
Friday was the team's only day to practice in M&T Bank Stadium, but first there was another round of media interviews for Coach Tillman and selected players. This time it was spending time on camera for the ESPN broadcast, as well as off camera interviews with the ESPN and Westwood One announcers. The team finally got on the field for a walk-through, going over some situational stuff since there was only one hour allotted for each team.
From there it was off to the team hotel to get ready for Friday Night Face Off at the Inner Harbor Amphitheater. The guys had some fun high-fiving fans and signing autographs. At least for one day the players were treated like rock stars and I'm sure it's something they will never forget.
The team's dinner on Friday was at Sabatino's in Little Italy and while the food was terrific, the highlight of the evening was that former Terp and legendary Cornell coach Richie Moran addressed the team after the meal. Coach Moran talked about a lot of topics with the Terps, but no one there will ever forget him leading the team in the signing of the Maryland fight song. Great stuff.
The Duke Game
I can't say enough about the effort all of the Terps gave in this one. From the guys on the field to the players on the bench to the coaches to the support staff, everyone put so much into this to make sure that Maryland would be playing on Monday.
You can read the full recap here, but it's hard in a game story to tell the little things and the nuances of the game.
If you look at the box score you won't be able to tell that arguably the loudest roar from the crowd came late in the third and it wasn't because of a goal, a big hit (which we'll get to) or a save. Dan Burns' amazing display of effort and athleticism on a 70-yard, one-man clear brought the fans to their feet. The only thing that made it even better was the fact that Catalino scored on the transition opportunity made possible by Burns, which put the Terps up 6-3.
The next thing that stands out for this game was the physicality of it. This was old school Terps lacrosse. The hits were hard and just kept coming. Max Schmidt, Ryder Bohlander, Jesse Bernhardt, Scott LaRue and Catalino each delivered bone-jarring hits that took their toll on the Blue Devils.
You don't have to take my word for it, here's what Duke coach John Danowski said after the game, "Maryland was too physical, too strong and too athletic today. And, I think it showed."
Duke midfielder David Lawson was on the receiving end of some of those hits and talked about it in the media room. "They hit us to the ground a lot in the first half. Ultimately, the kind of beat us up and there wasn't too much we could do about it."
Of course it always helps a defense be more aggressive when it knows it has a goalie making saves and that's exactly what Niko Amato did on Saturday. Although he is just a redshirt freshman, Amato loves playing on the big stage and it showed as he made 13 saves to help hold the high-powered Duke offense to its lowest goal total since late February.
One of the other big reasons for the Terps' controlling that game was the play of sophomore Curtis Holmes, who continued his dominance of the X this season by winning 11 of 17 draws. Just like all season, Holmes' performance vs. Duke was huge and was a big factor in the Maryland win.
In the end the Terps came out on top and would go on to play for their first NCAA title since 1998, but this was a knock-down, drag-out slugfest and it took a lot out of the Maryland players. A lot of the Terps went straight into ice baths and got IV fluids to help get their bodies as recovered as possible for Monday's game.
Recovery and Preparation Sunday
As can be expected, the coaching staff didn't get much sleep on Saturday night as they began to prepare for Monday's title showdown with Virginia.
The players tried to get some rest, but only they can tell you exactly how much sleep they got. I know from talking to some of them on Sunday that sleep didn't come easily with the excitement of the Duke win and the anticipation of Monday's game.
Sunday saw another round of media obligations (yes, there was a lot of media attention before, during and after the even), including a press conference with Coach Tillman, Burns, Holmes and Brett Schmidt. Before that Tillman and the players met with ESPN and Westwood One to help get the TV and radio guys prepared for Monday's game.
After that the team had a short walk-through at Boys' Latin and finished the day with some rest before heading back to Sabatino's for another terrific meal (the last pasta and chicken parm of the season).
The biggest part of Sunday was trying to get the players' bodies as prepared as possible for Monday's game. Virginia had two advantages over the Terps in this area. First, the Cavaliers played the early game, so it gave them a few extra hours to recover, which may not seem like much, but it can make a world of difference. Second, Virginia's game against Denver was not as physically taxing. Please, don't take these as excuses because no one is making any. These are just a fact and an observation.
Maryland coaches and staff did everything possible to get the Terps prepared for Monday. A terrific effort by everyone involved, including the players, to get the team ready to go against a talented team on a short turnaround.
The Championship Game
The first thing that I was impressed with when I got to the locker room on Monday was that it felt like the same locker room that it had been all season long. There didn't seem to be any extra pressure or a feeling that the moment was too big. I have no way of knowing what was going on inside their heads, but the Terps looked like they did all year before a game.
As for the game itself, there's only so much that can be added (the game recap is here). Maryland had its chances and the Terps played hard and gave it everything they had. In the end, the one player on either team that had the best day was one that did not play in the semis on Saturday. Again, this is not an excuse, just an observation based on a fact.
But, we all know how this one ended, so instead of looking at the game itself I wanted to give Terp fans and alums a look at what happened when Maryland left the field.
First, I wasn't in the locker room when the team first got in there. I was on the field with Coach Tillman. When we finally reached the locker room Maryland Director of Athletics Kevin Anderson was addressing the team and was telling them it was ok to be disappointed, but they shouldn't hang their heads because each and every one of them should be proud of how they played, how they represented themselves, their families, the state and their university.
Coach Tillman echoed those thoughts and told the team how proud he was of them. I'm going to leave it at that, because some things should stay between the team (I'm sure you understand).
One thing that most people don't know is that locker rooms at NCAA championships are open to the media for 30 minutes following a 10-minute cooling off period. By the time Mr. Anderson and Coach Tillman were done there were only two minutes left before the doors were opened and media were allowed in. But Catalino and Coach Tillman headed to the press conference room for the mandatory postgame press conference, which ended up allowing the ret of the Terps about 10 more minutes to organize themselves and their thoughts.
Once Catalino finished his portion of the press conference, the media made their way to the locker room for the 20 minutes remaining of the open period.
Let's make one thing clear - this is not a comfortable situation for the players. While Maryland has more than its fair share of media coverage during the season, this is a completely different situation. Sure, the guys went through it in Foxborough following the Syracuse game and after the Duke game, but it's still not something they are used to.
That being said, I cannot be prouder of how the guys handled themselves. They didn't duck or hide or refuse to answer any question. Sure, they were sad, disappointed and maybe even a bit angry following the game, but they handled themselves like men, showing humility, answering with candor and respect. They handled themselves like Terps!
Once A Terp, Always A Terp
I'm not sure how many people know, but this season has been one of reconnection with a lot of Maryland men's lacrosse alumni. This is in no way saying that this wasn't a priority in the past, but for a variety of reasons this entire year, dating back to last summer and fall, has seen alums come back to the fold in record numbers.
The culmination of this was seen in a gigantic tent outside M&T Bank Stadium this weekend as more than 500 Terps came into Baltimore to reconnect with one another, join Maryland's past to its present and cheer on the Terps.
I wasn't able to make it out to the tent, but from all accounts it was a fantastic time for all of the alums.
One of the hardest parts of ending any season is saying not only goodbye, but also thank you in the locker room. The players give everything they have every year and for the seniors it will be the last time they are there in that moment with their teammates; their brothers.
Right now I would like to take this opportunity say thanks to a few people.
First, Coach Tillman and his staff. Thank you - all of you - for everything this year. Change is never easy, but you all made things easy for me this season and always made me feel welcome no matter what I needed or asked of you guys.
Thank you to the seniors. You put up with me for four, and for Burns and Farrell five, years. I'm sure when you saw me and I said that I needed you for an interview it wasn't the highlight of your day, but you always took the time, no matter how inconvenient the timing. I'm going to miss all of you.
Thank you to the rest of the 2011 Terps. Teams are often remembered for its seniors, but the seniors are not the only ones that had to put up with me. Thanks, but don't forget that it starts again somewhat in the fall and full-force come January and February of 2012.
Thank you to the support staff. I'm sure people know that there is a team behind the team, but for the most part no one knows who they are and a lot of times they prefer it that way. But, here are those that have worked behind the scenes throughout the season with the men's lacrosse program:
Jon Palumbo - Sport Supervisor
J. Batt - Development
Laura Fellon - Academic Support
Amelia Sesma - Athletic Training
Mike Szemborski - Strength & Conditioning
Tim Ahner - Equipment
Katie Thompson - Marketing
Josh Kaplan - Operations & Facilities
Marie Brown - Ticket Operations
Jason Pazornick, Gabe Unterman & Mark Sherwood - Video Services
Jim Curry, Alex Eaton & Cody Gambler - Compliance
And, of course, a huge thank you to all of the Terps fans everywhere for following and supporting the Maryland team this season. I appreciate everyone taking the time to read this blog, send e-mails and even post a few comments. Thank you all!
As always you can stay in touch through the Official Maryland Men's Lacrosse Facebook page or by being added to the official Maryland men's lacrosse e-mail list. Maryland alums that would like to reconnect can also e-mail to be added to the alumni listserv (please be sure to include your years at Maryland).
That wraps up this season for regular blog updates, but if news warrants I'll be sure to post updates and send them out.
Be The Best!