Continuity is King: Maryland, UVA Advance Winning with Few High-Profile Transfers


EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — What began as the Year of the Transfer in Division I men’s lacrosse has produced a national title matchup with distinctly different traits.

Continuity and cohesion are the watchwords for third-seeded Maryland (15-0) and fourth-seeded Virginia (13-4), who will meet in Monday’s final at Rentschler Field.

Fifth-year players have clearly powered both to varying degrees. The Terrapins have attackman Jared Bernhardt and defenseman Nick Grill, both of whom took advantage of the extra year of eligibility afforded by the NCAA. Virginia still has long pole Jared Conners and midfielder Dox Aitken.

But transfer additions since last season for both teams are relatively minuscule, and not drawn from traditionally powerful Division I programs. Virginia brought in ex-Merrimack star Charlie Bertrand. Maryland’s impact additions were grad transfers Griffin Brown (Colgate) and Eric Holden (Hobart). Sophomore defenseman BJ Burlace (Yale) also contributes.

But for the most part, both finalists have relied on players who were already in the program when the pandemic hit.

“There’s also something to be said for not having to get guys acclimated to your culture,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “I think for us, what we learned is if you did it with a few guys, it would be good. But you have to be careful of bringing in 10 or 15 new guys. I just think that would be hard, especially if it was for only one year. Having enough guys know what your culture is and can lead is important.”

Filling big roles with transfers didn’t prevent some teams from enjoying excellent seasons. There’s a strong case a program like Rutgers, which most notably picked up brothers Colin and Connor Kirst and went on to make its first NCAA tournament since 2004 and win a postseason game for the first time in 31 years, did as well as anyone with the portal.

For a team like Virginia, though, the initial plan was to be selective, even as other programs in the ACC were much more active.

“When we hit the transfer portal last summer, we were looking to bring in one man,” coach Lars Tiffany said. “We really liked our culture. We really liked our locker room chemistry, and so we want to be looking for too many free agents or changing the mix. We lost a lefty, a really good goal-scorer in Michael Kraus. Let’s go find one. Charlie Bertrand? Perfect, that’s it.”

Yet Bertrand isn’t even filling exactly the same role Kraus did. Virginia still has holdover starters Ian Laviano and Matt Moore on attack, and Payton Cormier has also settled into a prominent role.

Eventually, Bertrand — a two-time Division II player of the year who had 210 goals at Merrimack and has delivered 26 goals and seven assists to the Cavaliers — wound up as a second-line midfielder and vital contributor.

“His poise, his demeanor, it’s amazing his maturity and intelligence,” Tiffany said. “I give him a ton of credit. He doesn’t play enough for us. To be honest, he should play more for us. There’s so much talent on attack, so we’re running Charlie in as a midfielder. He’s been an incredible addition.”

Still, nearly the rest of Virginia’s offensive contributors were already in the program last year (including freshman Connor Shellenberger, who redshirted last season). The same is the case at Maryland, where all six offensive starters were prominent options in 2020 and all but Daniel Maltz were important parts of the push to the quarterfinals in 2019.

With all of the restrictions associated with the pandemic, enjoying that familiarity probably was more helpful for the Terps than having to integrate an influx of new pieces.

“We didn’t really have a fall. Being able to fall back on the top five guys not including myself, having that chemistry and being able to say we’ve played with each other over multiple games,” senior attackman Logan Wisnauskas said. “We have a lot of guys with a lot of games under their belt and we’ve kind of fallen back on those guys.”

Which isn’t to say Brown and Holden, in particular, haven’t had an influence on the course of Maryland’s postseason push. Brown has 14 goals and three assists, while Holden has three goals and an assist. Both scored in Saturday’s semifinal against Duke while logging time on the second midfield.

Those are helpful contributions, but Maryland is playing on Memorial Day mainly because of players who are part of a multi-year foundation. The same is true of Virginia, and Tiffany was appreciative of the opportunity to discuss the Cavaliers’ approach to program building the day before they play for their second consecutive national title.

“Winning justifies a lot of things — probably too much,” Tiffany said. “This would be really rewarding for us as a staff and a program if the way we do our business when it comes to being very selective and purposeful with the transfer portal, that we’re not going to change the chemistry of our team because with our Cultural Thursdays and the books and the bonding we do, it’s really important for us to maintain that and not interject too much change.”

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