Again losing out on big game, UM's Cottle can't seem to win

May 28, 2006|By MIKE PRESTON

PHILADELPHIA — Philadelphia-- --University of Maryland coach Dave Cottle denied any frustration, but it has to be nagging him inside. College lacrosse's version of the final four has become a black Saturday for Cottle and the Terps.

After advancing to the semifinals for the third time in four years, No. 2-seeded Maryland was eliminated again as the Terps lost, 8-5, to unseeded Massachusetts at Lincoln Financial Field.

In two previous semifinal appearances under Cottle, the Terps were underdogs in losing to Virginia in 2003 and Duke last year, but they were expected to dust off Massachusetts on their way to the championship game against top-ranked Virginia tomorrow.

Virginia held up its end, but Maryland only opened up questions about its team. How can the Terps lose to a team that was beaten by Albany and Penn State? Were the Terps overconfident? Will Cottle ever win the big one?

"That week, I didn't think we practiced very well; I was concerned," Cottle said about last year's semifinal loss to Duke. "I thought this one we practiced well. This one, I'd like to have it over again. That one [Duke] could have been played a couple of more times, and it wouldn't have mattered.

"No, there is no frustration," Cottle said. "We're just trying to find a way to keep playing, and as coaches, we'll re-examine what we're doing. Sure, we'd have liked to have won this game today, and would have liked to have won Monday. I'm not frustrated by this."

Publicly, no; privately, yes.

Coaches are perfectionists. When there is a recurring problem, it eats at them. They go back and scrutinize everything. Before the end of the week, Cottle will have pored over his practice routines before this game. He'll check to see if his conditioning is too tough and burns out players late in the season. He'll re-evaluate himself about a thousand times to see if he is communicating effectively with his players.

Cottle, in his 24th season as a head coach, is one of the best in the game but has yet to win a national championship. He has been criticized for not being able to win the big one, a label that is unfair considering he took tiny Loyola's program to national prominence during his 19 years at the school.

His only opportunity in the title game, out of 18 tournament appearances, came in 1990 against Syracuse and the Gait brothers.

Forgive Cottle. He wasn't going to win that one.

But that's why yesterday's loss had to be so disturbing. The Terps had a legitimate shot to make it to the title game. The Minutemen were starting a freshman goalie and a freshman attackman, but they came up big while most of the Terps were no-shows. Cottle took the high road and failed to criticize his players, especially those on offense.

But Maryland's "Super Seniors," attackmen Joe Walters and Xander Ritz and midfielders Bill McGlone and Brendan Healy, contributed a total of one goal. That's it. Massachusetts defenseman Jack Reid shut down All-American Walters, whose final numbers were zero goals and zero assists, and the ball and his stick were stripped from him four times.

"We scored five goals in the semifinal game, and you're not going to win scoring five goals in the semifinals," Cottle said. "We just didn't get it done on the offensive side of the field, and that stopped us from ever getting settled as a team.

"This is our team, and we got here with certain guys. I don't think it's right to say one guy didn't play well offensively, or that this guy didn't play well."

Agreed. It was a team effort.

Maryland outshot the Minutemen, 43-31, but a lot of those shots were errant and way off mark. Walters seemed to be trying too hard, forcing passes in the middle and taking too many shots. McGlone was lethargic. Maryland had 17 turnovers and never seemed to get proper spacing on the field. The Terps tried to force too many passes near the top of the crease.

Once Maryland got behind, like 6-2 at the end of the third quarter, it was hard for the Terps to catch up. The Terps run a deliberate, patient offense that requires a lot of substitutions. They ran off as much time on the clock getting personnel on the field as the Minutemen did when they had the ball offensively.

That has to change, an adjustment the Terps should be able to make immediately pending the score of the game. It's also possible that Maryland overlooked Massachusetts.

Why not?

Everyone knew Virginia was the team to beat. The Cavaliers had blown out Maryland, 15-5, in their first encounter this season, but the Terps gained some ground losing, 11-5, to Virginia 29 days later. The Terps wanted another showdown, this one in the final.

Instead, it's Virginia vs. Massachusetts. It's the sport's best team against another Cinderella story. The Terps walk away with a great season, but one that ended with disappointment and frustration from another black Saturday.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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