Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman has been a part of many of the great teams to grace Division I lacrosse. The coach has led Maryland to seven Final Fours, five national championship games and won the whole thing in 2017.
This year, Tillman feels that same championship energy with this year’s squad, which is the top-ranked team in the country at 10-0 despite all the obstacles that have been thrown at it.
“I’m really proud of them for what they’ve accomplished and what they’ve been able to accomplish because they’ve really had to do a lot more than a typical team,” Tillman said on Glenn Clark Radio April 27.
With the COVID-19 pandemic bringing unprecedented challenges to the 2021 lacrosse season, the struggle of turning a team into a cohesive unit was a tall order for not just Tillman’s team, but for many others around the nation.
However, the Terps returned most of their players following the shortened 2020 season thanks to the extra year of eligibility. Maryland only had three seniors graduate and leave the program last year. With largely the same exact team coming back, Tillman’s squad was able to pick up right where they left off.
Tillman believes that continuity helped the Terps this season.
“We felt like we had almost the entire team back, but just a year older,” Tillman said. “I think that was really helpful for us just because all the guys that played last year were kind of used to playing with each other.”
Two returners who have been vital to Maryland’s success have been senior attackmen Jared Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas. They have combined for 70 goals this season, almost half of the Terps’ total (166).
Bernhardt set the record all-time career goals at College Park, Md., against Penn State on April 3, when he scored his 156th career goal. He now has 170 goals to his name, and Wisnauskas is not far behind with 126 career goals.
The veteran leadership these two provide is a big reason Tillman believes this team is so special.
“Those guys, they set such a good example for everybody else,” Tillman said. “It’s rubbed off on the rest of our team and knowing that regardless of what the score is and what’s going on, you just know what those guys are made of.”
Bernhardt is one of the few players currently on the roster who were part of the magical 2017 national championship team. Being able to experience something that not even his two brothers — former Terps Jesse and Jake — got to experience has been a driving force for the senior to try and achieve that again in his last season with the team.
That mindset was evident even after Bernhardt’s record-setting performance against Penn State. The 6-foot-1 195-pound attackman had just one thing on his mind when talking to his coach after the game.
“He said, ‘I just want these guys to experience what I was able to experience my freshman year in 2017. Like, I want those guys to experience that so they have that memory and they have that moment as a group,'” Tillman said. “What a selfless approach to things and what a great leader. When that is your best player, you got a chance to do some good things.”
As Maryland gets ready to jump into postseason play in the Big Ten tournament semifinals May 6, one of the only knocks on the team has been the omission of non-conference opponents from the Terps’ schedule. Big Ten teams played each other twice during the pandemic-altered regular season and did not play any non-conference opponents.
Despite the uncertainty of how Maryland may fare against non-conference opponents in the NCAA Tournament, Tillman believes that won’t hinder the confidence of his team.
“At this point, there’s really no reason to focus on those guys. We just need to focus on ourselves and the five other teams [in the Big Ten],” Tillman said. “… I think we have a selfless team that’s continuing to improve and plays really hard. That gives you a chance against some of these terrific teams that are out there.”
For more from Tillman, watch the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics