by David Elfin

How big a deal is Maryland vs. John Hopkins in men’s lacrosse?

Big enough that the Terps and/or the Blue Jays played for the first 15 NCAA titles and that one or both advanced to 35 of the 42 Final Fours thus far.

Big enough that the schools set the all-time NCAA regular season attendance record for a stand-alone game when just 150 shy of 20,000 fans were on hand for their 1987 clash at Byrd Stadium.

Big enough that tomorrow’s 103rd renewal of the 90-year-old rivalry has pushed Maryland’s spring football game to tonight.

“It’s pretty special not only to this university and to that university, but to lacrosse fans all over the country,” said John Haus, a senior Maryland midfielder who was a Hopkins ballboy when his father coached the Baltimore school in 1999 and 2000. “It will definitely be a little special for the seniors. I really believe that our class has a big impact on why we’re doing so well. We take a big leadership role.”

Those seniors have also given the top-ranked Terps (8-1) terrific offensive balance. Along with sophomore Jay Carlson (18 points) and junior Mike Chanenchuk (22), Haus (23), Owen Blye (20), Kevin Cooper (31) and Jake Bernhardt (17) make it six double-digit scorers who have combined for 86 of the Terps’ 118 goals. Blye (99 career points) and Haus (98) can become the 39th and 40th members of Maryland’s 100-point club tomorrow.

“A lot of teams might have one go-to guy, a guy the whole offense revolves around, but we have a lot of different, unselfish, flexible parts,” said Maryland third-year coach John Tillman, who’s 33-12 since coming to College Park from Harvard. “My first year here we had Grant Catalino and Travis Reed, who were exceptional shooters, but dodging-wise and speed-wise weren’t as flexible as the kids we have now. Our guys now aren’t as good shooters, but our system where everyone’s moving and cutting and sharing the ball suits our personnel very well.”

Senior long stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt, junior defender Michael Ehrhardt and junior goalie Niko Amato lead a Maryland defense which allows just 7.3 goals per game.

“Niko has put a lot of time in developing his game,” Tillman said of the third-year stalwart in the cage. “He’s doing a lot more to organize the defense and make sure that everybody’s on the same page.”

Maryland started 6-0 before being upset by visiting North Carolina on March 23, a defeat that co-captain Blye said didn’t have the Terps sulking but instead motivated them to raise their level of play.

Since then, Maryland has edged ACC archrival Virginia 9-7 and nearby foe Navy 11-8. After tomorrow’s test against Hopkins (which is tied for 15th in the rankings), the Terps have dates with Yale (tied for 15th)and 2012 NCAA quarterfinalist Colgate as well as the ACC Tournament in Chapel Hill on tap before the NCAAs which Maryland will almost certainly enter having beaten just one top 10 team, Duke.

“I’m not sure that our schedule has been as tough as [those] of some other teams, but we’ve been challenged and our last month is going to be a bear,” said Tillman, whose 2011 team lost 12-11 to Hopkins in overtime at home before winning 9-6 last year in Baltimore and 11-5 in an NCAA quarterfinal in Annapolis.

Despite Maryland’s revival under Tillman, the Terps – who hadn’t been to the Final Four since 2005 or advanced to Championship Monday since 1998 — have still come up short on the biggest stage, losing the title game to Virginia 9-7 in 2011 and 9-3 to Loyola (Md.) last May.

“Both those games really still stick with me,” Blye said. “Just watching the national championship in basketball, you watch Michigan lose and [you say to yourself], ‘I’ve done that twice.’ It’s a tough feeling. We understand this is our last chance to kinda right that ship.”

But first the Terps have to prevent the Blue Jays from paying them back for last year’s pair of defeats.

“The Maryland-Hopkins rivalry is very intense,” Blye said. “It’s just a little bit different than every other game you play.”

David Elfin began writing about sports when he was a junior at Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School. He is Washington’s representative on the Pro Football Hall of Fame selection committee and the author of seven books, most recently, “Washington Redskins: The Complete Illustrated History.” A pre-game regular on 106.7-The Fan the last three Redskins seasons, he has been its columnist since March 2011. Follow him on Twitter: @DavidElfin


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