Under John Tillman, Maryland has reached the Final Four four times in five seasons. They've reached the championship game three times. As esteemed and successful a program as Maryland is, this sort of run is one the Terps haven't had since the 70's, where they made the Final Four every year from 1971-1979 (and in those days it was much easier to make it that far.) Under Dick Edell, Maryland did make the title game three times from 1995-1998, but not four final fours in five years. So this is a historic level success achieved by Tillman.
Which is why framing this article as if Maryland has failed or that this Maryland team is doing what others were incapable of doing is pretty unfair. Making the championship game is hard. Doing it three times in five years is a heck of an accomplishment. So if this Terps team does make it to the title game again this season and instead wins, while they will be breaking a 41 year drought, they'll just have won one more game than previous teams. That's it. One more game. In the grand scheme of the season, that's very little. But that one win is very important. And this season, Maryland is in a much better position to get that one big win.
In recent seasons, Maryland has been a very top heavy line-up. There's not a lot of offense throughout the line-up beyond the top attack unit and top midfield unit. There's one top dog who runs the show. Last year that was Matt Rambo, who had 40 goals, seven more than the second highest total on the team and 59 points, 15 more than the second highest total on the team. In 2014 it was Mike Chanenchuk, who's 36 goals were six more than anyone else, 23 assists seventeen (!!) more than second most, and 59 points twenty three more than the second best total on the team. Now those two guys were really, really good. And there's nothing wrong with having a great alpha male. But an imbalance was there. And when teams could focus on one guy - like teams really did with Chanenchuk when he got hurt late in 2014 and to an extent with Rambo in 2015 - it makes you easier to stop.
This year though, that imbalance doesn't exist. This is still Rambo's team, but he's tied for the team lead in points at 27 with Bryan Cole, not well ahead. And Rambo doesn't lead the team in either goals or assists. In goals it's Colin Heacock, who has 23, but Rambo doesn't trail far behind with 19. And in assists it's Cole with 14, but Connor Kelly has 9 and Rambo has 8. The balance with this team has grown immensely relative to the last two seasons. This wasn't more evident than in Maryland's win this past Sunday against Penn State, where despite Rambo not scoring for the first time in 21 games and having only one point, Maryland was still able to score 11 goals against a Penn State team that hadn't allowed more than that in nearly a month and pick up a crucial win.
The other factor beyond an imbalance in scoring that has hurt the Terps come the championship game has been a lack of depth. You can get to April and even early May without a second line midfield or other attack options coming off the bench. But when you're making that short turn around, you need the depth. If you don't have it you'll frankly be exposed. And in their last two trips to the championship game, (Maryland was tied in the 4th Quarter with Virginia in the 2011 title game) as good as they've been, Maryland's been exposed a bit. While the top midfield line of Joe LoCascio, Bryan Cole, and Henry West combined for 110 points and each had more than 17 goals, the second midfield and reserves was almost non existent. While Colin Heacock could fill in at either midfield or attack and contributed well with 18 goals, beyond him the second line midfield was Bobby Gribbin, who had 8 points. Connor Kelly, who also had 8 points. And a couple guys got runs at the 3rd spot. In 2012, while Maryland was super deep in the midfield with Owen Blye, John Haus, and Drew Snider and then Kevin Cooper, Mike Chanenchuk, and Michael Shakespeare running on the second line group, their attackmen options beyond Joe Cummings were weak. Billy Gribbin had 22 goals, but they often had to invert a midfielder or two because Jay Carlson was not ready as a freshman. So depth problems have been a theme.
This year, by contrast, there's a defined second line midfield with talented guys running on it. John Tillman doesn't even prefer to call them "First" or "Second" midfields, he uses "Red" and "Gold". Now the top unit of Cole, Kelly, and West gets the most playing time and are the most effective. But there's been games where depending on the flow, the "Gold" group - Pat Young, Tim Rotanz, and Lucas Gradinger - get a lot of time too. And those two are making a difference. So far they've combined for 21 points and both Young and Rotanz have chipped in with five goals. Not sparkling numbers, but solid. And the most important thing is that Maryland is not hindered when they're on the field. Young struggled mightily vs Penn State but he's still capable of keeping the offense moving when he's out there. Rotanz was a top recruit and a converted attackmen. Gradinger's a talented player himself. Even when they're not putting up points, John Tillman clearly trusts them enough that he can use them when his top players need rest and the team is not hindered or grinds to a halt like has occurred in the past.
Now this article might end up jinxing the team and they might lose in the quarterfinals or something like that. Maybe they get to the championship again and still lose. Who knows. But this Maryland team is one of the most skilled offensive teams I've seen Tillman have and they have depth to go with it. Should the Terps make it far in the Big BBQ this May, they'll be different and more prepared than in years past.