Midfield produces for Maryland

Diverse unit contributes to the No. 3 seed Terps

May 21, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

They're a nondescript group, content to log plenty of yardage running in from the midfield and create opportunities for their teammates.

But even someone as mild-mannered as Jake Bernhardt raises an eyebrow when the fans and media shower love upon the attack unit for the Maryland men's lacrosse team while overlooking the contributions of the midfield.

"I can't sit here and say that it didn't bother me," the sophomore midfielder said of the lack of attention paid to the midfield in the preseason. "But I guess you can say that we didn't really have any expectations to meet. So you can make it or break it, and I feel like we've done pretty well so far. Now we have three games left, and these three games are when we need to step up. We can just explode out of nowhere, or we can dive into the ground. But I feel as the season has gone along, we're getting stronger as a midfield."

Opponents will always center on the attack, but if the third-seeded Terps (12-3) intend to beat Notre Dame (8-6) in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at noon Saturday at Princeton (N.J.) Stadium, they will need a solid performance from their midfield.

Maybe it needs a showing like the one the unit posted in the team's 11-8 victory over Hofstra in the first round Saturday. Five members of the first, second and third midfield lines combined for five goals and two assists, spurring coach Dave Cottle in his post-game comments to half-joke about their anonymity.

"The one thing about playing a lot of guys is that nobody knows who they are and they don't know what hands they are," Cottle said. "If we just keep throwing guys out, maybe they'll forget what hands they are. But [freshman] Johnny Haus gets a goal, [sophomore] Joe Cummings gets a goal, Jake Bernhardt gets his 10th goal of the season. [Redshirt freshman] Owen Blye gets a goal on a nice backside cut on the second midfield. [Senior] Adam Sear has that big man-up goal on the third midfield. That's who we are. We play a lot of guys. We felt like in our league, we probably weren't going to outdo some of these teams in our league one through 15, but we could be better than them 16 through 32, and that's kind of how we built this team this year."

Maryland's starting midfield of Bernhardt (10 goals and three assists this season), Cummings (15, 4) and junior Dan Burns (2, 5) has the fewest combined goal and point totals of the eight teams remaining in the tournament.

But the Terps rely on running as many as four midfields in a game, and the second, third and fourth lines have contributed 46goals and 13 assists.

ESPN analyst Quint Kessenich said Maryland's strategy has worked.

"They are relying on not All-American midfielders, but quality midfielders, good athletes who play short shifts and who — when they're on the field — they're flying around like banshees and they're making plays," said Kessenich, a former All-America goalkeeper who helped Johns Hopkins capture the 1987 national championship. "Other teams will rely on fewer middies who may be more talented, but by the end of the game, they're typically more worn out. … They're not perfect, but this is what Dave has them doing. It's their style, and I really think he's done a nice job of keeping kids involved, going with the hot hand, and seeing what the matchups are."

Cottle has not been shy about changing personnel depending on performance and matchups. Bernhardt opened the season playing alongside seniors Will Yeatman and Sear, but was joined by Cummings and Burns before a regular-season meeting against Virginia on April 3.

Cummings said players are aware that they are being observed in both practice and games.

"You can't take a day off, and that's been the mentaIity of our team," he said. "You want to get better every day, and if you can't look at yourself in the mirror and say that you got better, then you didn't accomplish what you wanted to do. There's definitely some added pressure, but I think it's good because it just makes everybody work harder and compete. And we have fun with it. Coach will run off how many goals one line has compared to the others, and you just have fun with that in practice."

Added Cottle: "I think in the midfield — more than any other position — they know that if they're not productive, then there's going to be somebody who's waiting for them. I think it's a positive thing. I don't think it's a threat. But if you don't play better and somebody is playing better, then he'll get a chance to play a little bit more."

Bernhardt said the midfielders feel they have to take some of the pressure off the attack and contribute either via scoring or giving the attackmen scoring opportunities. He said he hopes running four midfield lines will confuse opposing defenses.

"This guy is a righty and this guy is a lefty, and if you have four midfield lines, that's a whole bunch of people that you have to figure out in terms of which person plays what hand and what their playing style is," Bernhardt said. "It's hard enough trying to figure out two midfield lines. And with our midfielders, you pretty much have to respect everyone who goes out on the field because everyone's a threat to either score or contribute somehow on the field."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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