John Tillman: Maryland Men’s Lacrosse Needs ‘Best Game Of The Year’ To Beat Virginia

Being on an undefeated college lacrosse team that is aiming for a national championship seems pretty fun. Turns out, it’s fun to be part of the Maryland men’s lacrosse team off the field, too.

Terps head coach John Tillman said the lacrosse team moved into the football team’s old locker room at the Gossett Team House, and the space is about five times bigger than the one the lacrosse team had previously. The new locker room has couches, TVs, video games, beanbag chairs, a ping pong table, bubble hockey and more.

Talk about a place to unwind.

“I think there’s a sense when you come to the locker room, regardless of if you have an exam or a big paper, you can kind of get away from all that,” Tillman said on Glenn Clark Radio May 17. “You’re with the guys. You’re spending time together. You’re having some fun. I think anybody that’s been on a team at any level, the locker room is a pretty sacred and special place. When you’re in there, it’s you and the guys. You can kind of let your hair down.”

The football team moved into its new Jones-Hill House facility, leaving behind Gossett Team House … which became the lacrosse team’s gain in more ways than one.

“I think with our guys, a little bit of fun goes a long way, so it’s important for us to realize, ‘Yeah, they need to laugh, they need to joke,'” Tillman said. “When you need to be serious, you need to be serious, but they’re young people, so along the journey you need to make sure you sprinkle some of that in or it’s just going to be boring.”

And Maryland certainly does take lacrosse seriously. The Terps won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles, the latter coming courtesy of a 17-7 victory against Rutgers May 7. They’ve outscored opponents, 278-138, on the season. The program has won 30 of its last 31 games since the start of last season, with the lone loss coming against Virginia in heartbreaking fashion in the national title game last spring.

The Terps now have an opportunity to avenge that loss when they meet the Cavaliers in the NCAA Tournament quarterfinals in Columbus, Ohio, on May 22. Maryland topped Virginia, 23-12, at Audi Field in March, but Tillman cautioned that the Cavaliers were banged up at the time and are playing much better lacrosse now. Virginia has won its past four games and six of its past eight since the Maryland loss.

“They’re the champs, and they’re the champs until someone beats them,” Tillman said. “I think our guys know what happened last year. I think it’s a sense of motivation. It’s a sense of respect since we did lose to them, so we have to prove that we can do it in the postseason. I think that’s something that the guys hopefully will think about this week as we prepare, realizing that we have to play our best game of the year.”

The Cavaliers have scored a total of 79 goals during their past four games, an indication that they’re peaking at the right time. They’re led up front by attackmen Connor Shellenberger (32 goals, 44 assists), Payton Cormier (48 goals, 9 assists), Matt Moore (25 goals, 25 assists) and Xander Dickson (31 goals, 8 assists).

Tillman knows Virginia is capable of punching his team in the mouth, but he’s also confident in the way his team can respond. Ohio State scored five straight goals to take an early 7-3 lead against Maryland April 16, after which the Terps immediately scored five consecutive goals of their own.

“You turn on the film of Virginia, they score goals. They score goals in bunches, and they did that to us the first time,” Tillman said, referring to when the Cavaliers scored four straight goals during the March matchup. “They go on runs and they’re talented, so you’ve got to be able to take some of those punches, much like in a boxing match. You’re going to get hit. You’ve just got to be able to take those punches.”

Plenty of Maryland’s players have earned big-time accolades this year, from Tewaaraton Award finalist Logan Wisnauskas (52 goals, 38 assists) to Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year Brett Makar (25 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers) to Big Ten Specialist of the Year Luke Wierman (.663 faceoff win percentage).

Tillman rattled off players who haven’t gotten the same publicity but have still been integral to the team’s success: junior attackman/midfielder Jack Brennan, fifth-year midfielder Bubba Fairman, senior long stick midfielder John Geppert, fifth-year midfielder Jake Higgins, senior midfielder Jack Koras, sophomore attackman Eric Malever, graduate midfielder Alex Smith and sophomore defenseman Ajax Zappitello.

Tillman is going to need a big performance from everyone in order to get over the Virginia hump in the NCAA Tournament — and have a little more time with one another in that awesome locker room.

“Now your sole focus is, ‘Hey, this is the end of the road. If we lose, it’s over.’ So we’ve got to make sure we get another week together,” Tillman said. “… We know we have the defending champs this weekend and they are terrific and until somebody beats them, they are the champs, so we’ve got a lot of work to do this week to try to be able to compete with them.”

For more from Tillman, listen to the full interview here:

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Luke Jackson

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