'The Stretch' begins for Maryland lacrosse

Terps will find out what they are made of during four-game run

March 25, 2011|Mike Preston

COLLEGE PARK — — Around the University of Maryland campus, it's known as "The Stretch," a run of four consecutive games against national powers North Carolina, Virginia, Navy and Johns Hopkins.

The Terps (6-1), ranked No. 6 nationally, have made "The Stretch" run every year,since 1978 and only four times have these games been interrupted by another opponent. Overall, Maryland is 60-72 during this run and it begins for another year Saturday at noon when Maryland plays host to No. 7 North Carolina (6-2).

"When I came aboard in 1984, Carolina was the power of the world," said Dick Edell, who coached 18 years at Maryland before resigning in September 2001. "Next was Virginia, and that was a rivalry before I got there. Navy is the trap game. It's a far, far, far more important game for them than it was to us, and for like four years there, we beat them 6-5 even though I thought we had a better team, but Richie Meade (Navy) coached his butt off in those games.

"But you always had to find a way to get motivated for that game because it wasn't a conference game, and it wasn't Hopkins," Edell said. "As for Hopkins, that game could have been played on York Road or Route 1 because it was and will always be a street fight."

And so is this stretch of games for Maryland.

It's about winning and survival. The Terps have swept all four games only once, back in 1987. Only twice has Maryland lost all four, and six times the Terps have won three of four.

Unfortunately for Maryland, the Terps play in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament the following week after the Hopkins game.

"I think Ace Adams [former Virginia coach] was asleep and I was reading a magazine at the meeting when we signed off to play the tournament," said Edell, laughing, at the tournament which started 22 years ago.

Former Maryland coach Dave Cottle resigned last May after nine seasons as the Terps head coach. Like Edell and current Maryland coach John Tillman, he approached "The Stretch" one game at a time. But he also knew there were setbacks and rewards that came from playing such a rigorous schedule.

"Carolina had the best skills," Cottle said. "Navy always had the best defense and was physical. Virginia had the best offense and the best athletes, and Hopkins was the best combination of them all and they could beat you with coaching."

"Last year, we focused more on ourselves than the other teams and what they would try to do. After The Stretch, you will know everything you need to know about your team. You adjust as you go, and are able try to fix any inherent weaknesses. I was coming from Loyola to Maryland, and had no idea about the intensity of an ACC game, of how they got ready and played these games. You have to step back after an ACC game. Hopkins is like an ACC game."

Cottle agrees with Edell that it was hard to prepare for Navy. In fact, he wanted to change the schedule of the Navy game several times, but couldn't. In practices before an ACC game, Cottle said he had to tone his players down because there was concern they might hurt each other.

"If you beat Virginia going into the Navy game, you can't get them to practice and if they lose to Virginia, they don't want to practice," Cottle said. "And then you have Navy, and they play us as tough as anybody on the schedule. After you're done with the four games, you've got the ACC tournament and that presents another type of challenge. It tests your resolve."

The schedule can be draining both mentally and physically. There have been some years where the Terps have come out healthy and other times when they literally had to limp into the ACC tournament.

"Every year is different," said Maryland long pole midfielder Brian Farrell. "It's hard to harvest all the emotions, and you try to prepare as well as you can. It's a tough four games against teams at the top level, and then you have two more the following week. Sometimes you can get really banged up."

Farrell says Tillman has been real conscious of the schedule, and adjusts his practice schedule accordingly. Tillman spent three seasons as the head coach at Harvard, and Ivy League games were just as intense as ACC games. Tillman also spent 11 years as a Navy assistant and is familiar with ACC opponents.

"Basically, it's one game at a time, one practice, one hour at a time," said Maryland senior attackman Grant Catalino. "As a senior, you tend to look forward, you can't wait for the playoffs to come. But to get there, we have to position ourselves for the tournament. We have to deal with the new set of emotions every week, but you don't want to look to far ahead. I'm aware that we have Virginia, Navy and Hopkins on the schedule, but right now my focus is on Carolina. That's all I've studied for, and that's who I'm prepared to play. We'll get to the others on another day."

mike.preston@baltsun.com

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