There wasn't much Maryland men's lacrosse coach John Tillman could do except stare at the ground, trying to find the words to console his players, many of whom were still sprawled on the turf at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
How else could he and his team handle 41 years of frustration?
The Terrapins fell short of winning their first NCAA national championship since 1975 with a deflating 14-13 overtime loss to unseeded North Carolina May 30. Since winning the title, Maryland has been national runner-up nine times and made 19 NCAA tournament semifinals without bringing home a trophy.
"Right now, we just have to deal with the disappointment, and I told them that eventually it gets a little less severe," said Tillman, who was emotional throughout his postgame news conference. "It dulls a little bit, and we have to reflect back on the journey for some of these guys -- it's been one, two, three or four years of a journey."
Despite the disappointing end to a stellar 17-3 season, Maryland will bring back enough talent to make another championship run in 2017. The Terps had won 16 consecutive games before losing to the Tar Heels in the title game. Maryland also won the Big Ten regular-season and tournament titles.
Junior Isaiah Davis-Allen will return after being named a first-team All-American by the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association. Davis-Allen will be widely regarded as the best short-stick defensive midfielder in the nation. He is a top-notch defender and a dominant force on the faceoff wing. He had 45 ground balls this season, while also scoring four goals.
"It's hard, especially as you get older, like being a junior," Davis-Allen said about losing the national championship game. "So you know it's hard. That's the only thing I can say about that."
Junior Matt Rambo will also return and is already regarded as one of the best attackman in Maryland history. He was the first Maryland player since Joe Walters in 2006 to have at least 60 points in a single season. Rambo, a second-team All-American, finished the year with 43 goals and 32 assists, including three goals and three assists in the national championship game. Rambo's 75 points are the third most in a single season in program history and the most since 1979.
Junior defender Tim Muller, a third-team All-American, was regarded as one of the top defenders in the country during his first full season as a starter. He was named Big Ten Defender of the Week three times, as Muller led the Terps with 42 ground balls.
Maryland will get another boost with junior Colin Heacock (Boys' Latin), who was a force all season on the attack. He set career highs for points (54), goals (42) and assists (12). He also had a career-best 14-goal scoring streak during the season and was named an honorable mention All-American.
The Terps will have to replace senior midfielder and first-team All-American Bryan Cole, who had a career-best 29 assists with 21 goals. In addition, senior defender Matt Dunn and senior goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr, both two-time All-American selections, will also graduate. Dunn will also be missed for his leadership after being named a Senior CLASS Award first-team All-American for his work on the field, in the classroom and in the community. The loss of Bernlohr might create the biggest void.
Entering the national championship game against the Tar Heels, Bernlohr set the program record for wins in a single season (17), while posting a 7.63 goals-against average and a .552 save percentage. He also had a 31-6 record as a starter during the past two seasons, allowing more than 10 goals just twice.
"Those seniors do so much for you throughout the year, and you build such good bonds with them throughout the season and the fall," junior attackman Dylan Maltz said. "And just to see us not come out on top, we're all sad, and just to see the seniors, especially, it's the worst feeling you can imagine."
Tillman, however, is an adept recruiter, and he will surely reload for another run at an NCAA championship next season. The Terps already have 476 All-American selections in their history and will likely keep adding to that list.
"The closer you get, the harder it is when you lose," Tillman said. "But sometimes you have to step back. I have so many friends that coach -- they don't get this far, and they felt this, too."
Issue 222: June 2016