Gratitude Is The Emotion For Maryland After Latest Lacrosse Agony
Leave it to Maryland’s soulful coach John Tillman to place Monday’s devastating loss in the NCAA men’s lacrosse final in proper perspective.
“I’m obviously disappointed for them because there’s a lot of hurt in the locker room,” Tillman said after a 17-16 loss to Virginia in East Hartford, Conn. “But man, I’m thankful. I’m thankful to be with a group like that. Every day you’re just very motivated to work hard for them because they’re just doing so much that a lot of kids aren’t willing to do.”
This was the seventh time in eight Final Four trips under Tillman — all since 2011— that Maryland had come up empty. The lone breakthrough was in 2017, when the Terrrapins, long known as a women’s lacrosse power, broke a 42-year title drought on the men’s side.
Five other times, including Monday, they have lost in the championship game. It’s almost cruel, really.
Someone asked Tillman why the Terps kept getting scheduled in the second game on Saturday, which limits recovery time in the quick turnaround to Memorial Day. All eight Final Four trips under Tillman have come under those circumstances.
He carefully answered the question, but he wasn’t about to start bellyaching on the sport’s biggest stage. Not after all his players, the sport and NCAA athletes and coaches in general had gone through just to make it through this Covid-marred school year of intercollegiate competition.
“When you get into this, you’ve got a lot of things you’re trying to achieve as a coach,” Tillman said. “And you keep score for a reason, because you’re trying to win games, but you’re building men and you’re trying to teach kids about life and get them ready for a very challenging life.”
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“Man, what these guys sacrificed this year,” Tillman said. “The things that they gave up to put Maryland in this situation — incredible.”
Instead of Maryland becoming just the fourth unbeaten men’s lacrosse champion over the past three decades, Virginia was able to pull off just the ninth repeat title performance in a history that dates to 1971.
True, there was a two-year calendar gap between those titles, but one could say the first pandemic in a century is reason enough to overlook that technicality.
Overall, there was incredible balance in this year’s tournament, especially as the stakes keep getting raised. Three of the four regional finals were decided by a single goal, including two that required overtime.
Maryland rolled No. 2 Duke 14-5 in one Saturday semifinal, but Virginia and super freshman Connor Shellenberger (named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player) had to hold off top-seeded North Carolina 12-11 just to advance to Monday’s final.
In all, five of the final seven matches in this year’s tournament went down to the wire, decided by a single goal. That’s how narrow the margin was between the best teams in men’s college lacrosse this season.
And yes, that’s how close Tillman and his exemplary Maryland program came once again to tasting glory instead of bitter defeat.