“There are not a lot of people that can say they experienced that,” said Anthony DeMaio, who was a freshman taking a redshirt year that season.
That feeling doesn’t fade from memory. For DeMaio, now a senior midfielder, nothing else in his college career has compared. It’s nearly impossible to explain that title-winning joy to teammates, and while the Terps have had plenty of success since, they haven’t returned to that peak.
Tillman has led the Terps to seven of the past nine Final Fours. His team this season, the No. 3 seed in the NCAA tournament, would earn another trip to that round with a win in Sunday’s quarterfinal against No. 6 seed Notre Dame. Competing for titles is the expectation in College Park. Players know that as high-schoolers when they’re being recruited, and it’s part of what makes the program so attractive.
The Terps routinely land atop the Big Ten and make runs through the postseason. The 2017 team is the only group that has won the national championship during Tillman’s 11-year tenure, but this year’s squad could be poised for a breakthrough. The Terps (13-0) are the only undefeated team in the tournament, and they stormed past Vermont in the first round. All but two of Maryland’s wins this season have been by four goals or more. As the Terps cruised through the regular season, dispatching one Big Ten opponent after another, the hope that they could chase a national title only intensified.
“I’m sure that they won’t admit it,” said Isaiah Davis-Allen, who was a senior captain in 2017, “but they’re definitely sick of hearing about our team, and they kind of want to carve out their own legacy.”
Maryland leans on senior Jared Bernhardt, a Tewaaraton Award finalist who leads the nation in goals and points per game. Five other seniors join him in the starting lineup. But with the 2017 title now four years in the past, Bernhardt and DeMaio are the only members of that team still on the roster.
As a freshman, Bernhardt had already earned a starting role. He scored 20 goals that season, the foundation of what became a school record of 190 and counting. DeMaio played on the scout team in practice, then watched games from the bench. Both absorbed what it took to reach those heights and are now leading this team, which hopes to make it there.
“You pick up on everything that they do,” DeMaio said of the older players in 2017. “I looked up to all those guys, and being able to be on the sideline for those games down the stretch — in the big moments, how those guys handled themselves, how positive they were maybe when things weren’t going right; picking up on little nuances in their games, too — I think that was something that has really helped me.”
Those lessons are useful; even with a veteran group, this team lacks the experience gained in deep postseason runs. The 2020 tournament was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, so even the sophomores — including starting goalie Logan McNaney and attackman Daniel Maltz — had never played in an NCAA tournament game before last weekend. The juniors haven’t made it past the quarterfinals, where Maryland lost in 2019. The Terps also rely on a handful of transfers who had little to no tournament experience at their previous schools.
“We looked a little nervous early,” Tillman said of the first-round win over Vermont. “What I liked is they kind of played their way through it. … Even though we had been in the Big Ten playoffs, I think it was kind of a different feeling, so I’m hopeful that will serve us well this weekend.”
A win in South Bend, Ind. — a predetermined quarterfinal site that makes Maryland’s matchup essentially a home game for Notre Dame (8-3) — would send the Terps to another Final Four, and they would be two wins from a perfect season.
This team seems a bit quieter than the 2017 group, Davis-Allen said, but the talent and potential compare. Davis-Allen, who now lives in Baltimore, still watches nearly every game. The attacking duo of Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas remind him of Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock. And a Maltz brother — Dylan in 2017 and Daniel now — contributes to the attack.
DeMaio believes both teams played with a bit of an edge — in 2017 because the Terps had reached the previous two national title games but fell short and this season because the program hasn’t had that same level of success recently. The energy from the bench seems similar, too, but DeMaio might bring a fresh boost. “I don’t think our program, at least in my time, had a guy like that — someone who was that creative, that slick,” said Davis-Allen, who was paired with DeMaio as a mentor in 2017 and has stayed in touch since.
After DeMaio graduated from high school, he planned to attend prep school to attract more college scholarship offers. He quickly changed his plans when Maryland had a spot for him on the 2017 team, but that opportunity came too late for him to enroll in the fall. Instead, he stayed home in Coronado, Calif., working at his uncle’s restaurant and training on his own. DeMaio arrived at Maryland in January, and he redshirted so he would have time to acclimate to the college level.
DeMaio felt pride when his teammates mentioned in postgame interviews how the scout team helped them prepare. (Now DeMaio can rattle off the scout-team players who help him be at his best.) Tillman emphasizes the value of every player’s role, from the stars to the scout team, so even though DeMaio didn’t play in 2017, he still experienced the pure joy that came at the end. He and Bernhardt are the only players left who understand that, and now they want their teammates to experience it, too.
“We want to be able to feel that again,” DeMaio said. “But it’s more about we love the guys on our team and we just want them to feel the same thing, honestly, because it’s everything. You never forget.”
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