It is a similar tale to last season. The undefeated Terps, fresh off being crowned Big Ten Champions, have one more task ahead of them: the NCAA Tournament.
At this point last year, they continued their winning ways. They vanquished Vermont, snuck past Notre Dame, then they destroyed Duke. They were one win away from doing what few teams in history have done – cap off a perfect season as National Champions.
But a one-point loss to Virginia in the championship game abruptly concluded their flawless season just short of the ultimate prize.
This year, Maryland is in a similar situation. The squad enters the tournament with a perfect record, now with the top seed overall in the tournament field, and their first matchup is once again against Vermont.
The game marks the start of the final leg of a special season – one where the team won four out of five major conference awards, claimed several All-Big Ten and All-American honors and a program record six selections in the PLL draft.
It was not just the team’s wins, but the quality of how they won. Maryland’s numbers have been historic, as the Terps enter the tournament as the top seed. This year’s unit scores more and shares the ball better than last year, averaging nearly two more points per game (18.4) than they did last season when they led the nation comfortably — all without their former fulcrum attacker Jared Bernhardt.
It also wins faceoffs at an unprecedented level thanks to program record numbers from FOGO Luke Wierman, who has the most faceoff wins for a Terp (236) in a single season. The defense is stout, too. A deep midfield group and sound close defense helps the Terps lead their contests for a resounding 89% of minutes played.
To coach John Tillman, what makes this year’s squad so special is their team-oriented mindset.
“I’ve been around a lot of teams,” Tillman said. “Some teams were definitely more challenging when it came to getting [them to] buy into the team, or off the field distractions, or getting guys to be team-first. This group has been, just, so great.”
As the season winds down, the team is enjoying the short time together that they have left – whether it be by having snowballs at practice or doing team outings at Chipotle.
“They’ve been such a good group. I just want to make sure they enjoy it,” Tillman said. “As much as I need to make sure I enjoy it, and the staff, I need them to enjoy it.”
This week, however, the players are also busy balancing finals with preparation for the big games ahead.
“It’s kind of the quintessential student athlete week,” midfielder Jonathan Donville said.
With the NCAA Tournament approaching comes the pressure that any game played could be their last.
“I just think it’s one of the coolest parts about college sports is when teams are playing for the opportunity just to play another week together,” Donville said. “This team is never going to be back together.”
For a group as special as this year’s Terps have been, saying goodbye might not be easy.
“I’m thankful for the type of guys we have in there [with] the way they do their business, the way they represent the school,” Tillman said.