John Tillman on prepping for Virginia, special Final Four run

Maryland men’s lacrosse is set to make its 29th all-time Final Four appearance and third in four seasons as head coach John Tillman looks to guide the program to its fifth NCAA Championship.

They’ll face a familiar opponent on Saturday as they travel to Lincoln Financial Field to take on sixth-seed Virginia in a rematch of the mid-March matchup in College Park. Virginia took down Maryland during the regular season, 14-10, despite the Terps cutting the deficit to one after the slow start. Maryland would drop its next game before ending its losing streak with a road win at fourth-ranked Penn State as the Terps closed the regular season out with three wins in four games. After sliding into the NCAA Tournament as a seven-seed, Maryland dominated Princeton in College Park before completing the fourth-quarter comeback to defeat Duke, 14-11, to punch its Final Four ticket.

After opening the season 10-1, Virginia lost its final three regular season game before top-ranked Notre Dame dominated the ‘Hoos in their opening-round matchup in the ACC Tournament. Virginia bounced back at home vs. Saint Joseph’s to open the NCAA Tournament before needing double-overtime to defeat Johns Hopkins, 11-10, to advance to the Final Four.

With the winner set to face the winner of Notre Dame and Denver in the championship, head coach John Tillman previewed this weekend’s Final Four matchup and how his team fares heading into Memorial Day Weekend.

On what makes the 2024 Final Four run special

“Just the people you’re with. The people make the journey. They make the whole year, the experience. The memories that you have, the relationships you build and really proud of this group. Certainly, we weren’t the most consistent team we’ve had, but the guys were very resilient. They kept battling. And to me, that’s what I’m most proud of is that regardless of how things went and sometimes it didn’t go very well, the guys stuck together and just kept fighting. And these are great things to take away for the rest of their lives.”

On embracing the underdog mentality vs. Virginia

“I don’t think that’s a bad place for us, having kind of that underdog chip on your shoulder. I think Maryland teams always do well in that role. Listen, I think that’s a good place for us to be. Last time we played Virginia, we lost so now it’s our chance. Hey, if we play well, maybe we can turn the tide there.”

On what Maryland can take from the first matchup vs. Virginia

“Yeah, so much. They’re an awesome team. A lot of high-profile recruits. It’s kind of a who’s who of high school lacrosse players, and they’ve done a great job recruiting. Lars and his staff do an awesome job. They’re very different in terms of style of play. They do some very unique things so I’m glad that we had a week of preparation because there’s a lot to prepare for. They do a lot of things that are different and so we’ve had to get those reps in. Again, not only are their schemes great, but their players are great. They’re tough. They’re unselfish. They’re super skilled. So, we’ll have to play our best game of the year.”

On having a large fanbase traveling to Philadelphia for the Final Four

“Fired up. It’s going to be awesome. Terp Nation always supports us everywhere we go so we’re hoping that everybody in Terp Nation maybe delay going to the beach for a weekend and come to Philly. There’s plenty to see and do. You can run the Rocky steps or something like that.”

On how Maryland embraced the changing roles on offense

“It just says a lot about our group. We did make some changes and shuffled the deck a little bit and guys handled it great. We have a very unselfish group. We’ve had guys make sacrifices all year, guys play different positions and it was always like whatever you need, coach. And that’s when you know you got a good group and you know you could have some success because it’s always about the guys around them. It’s not what they want and we always tell them in the team setting, rarely does every single guy get what he wants all the time. But the beauty of the team sport is regardless of good, bad, you have like all these brothers that you’ll have for the rest of your life. So if your whole mindset is to do what’s best for the guy next to you, they’re going to love you that much more. They’re going to have your back that much more. And if we have success, like you’ll enjoy it together. And if we don’t do well, you’ll be there to back each other up. And that’s what this whole thing’s about.”

On the captain leadership through the 2024 season

“You only go as far as the leadership in your group and we have some guys have been around for a long time. As I’ve told everybody all year, I love this group. They are just great people to be around. I love them as people. They just do everything the right way. They’re great in the classroom. They’re great in the community. They’re very selfless. They look out for each other. They stay out of trouble. And so when you have that type of group, it probably is a result of the leadership of the older guys setting a good example, holding guys accountable. And when things aren’t going well — and there’s always parts of the year where things aren’t going to go well whether it’s on an individual basis or a team basis — like you’re relying on those guys to stay the course, reinforce what our culture is, our standards, things like that. Don’t take shortcuts, keep everybody on board and just keep the faith and those guys have done an excellent job of that.”

On Virginia star Connor Shellinger

“He is arguably the best player in the country and what I would say is as good a player as he is, and he’s outstanding, he’s as good a person. He is a fine young man, a guy [I] respect a lot. I’ve seen a lot, whether it’s in the recruiting circuit or over the last five years, high character, plays the right way. Great teammate. You could see he is a tremendous leader for them. I’m not surprised he’s done so well. He works incredibly hard. I don’t know if people realize how much he invests. That is not by accident. Connor is a really hard worker. When he was up here playing in high school he would be out on the turf forever shooting. So, you know, he’s earned all the success, caused us a lot of problems. I’ll be happy once he graduates. I’ll be rooting for him in the PLL for sure.”

On the relationship between Tillman and Virginia head coach Lars Tiffany

“I think Lars would tell you the same thing. It’s really about our teams and our kids. And if we were out there playing, there’d be nobody in the stands because no one would want to watch that, especially at our age. But I think for Lars, a guy I’ve known forever, kind of in the same era coming up through the ranks as young coaches and obviously knew he was going to be a great coach. He was as an assistant and he’s been outstanding as a head coach and obviously they’re always in the mix. They’re always really good. They’re well coached. He’s stayed true to who he is. He does it his way and obviously it’s worked everywhere he’s been coach.”

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