Jay Carlson began his season on a hot streak.
The Terrapins men’s lacrosse attackman started and scored in each of the Terps’ first seven games — all victories. He posted a hat trick in the season opener against Mount St. Mary’s on Feb. 8, another against then-No. 1 Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on Feb. 22 and four goals at Michigan on March 18.
But after the junior’s first scoreless contest of the season in the Terps’ first loss, at then-No. 6 North Carolina on March 22, Carlson lost his spot in the starting lineup. To provide the unit with more speed in the next game, coach John Tillman moved freshman Connor Cannizzaro from the first-line midfield to attack for the Terps’ matchup with then-No. 8 Virginia at Byrd Stadium, and Carlson was the odd man out.
The No. 7 Terps won back-to-back games after the lineup change, defeating the Cavaliers by three goals on March 30 and trouncing Robert Morris by 13 goals three days later. But after the Terps’ stagnant offensive performance in an 11-6 loss at Johns Hopkins on Saturday, Tillman said he is considering moving Carlson back into the starting lineup for the Terps’ contest at ACC foe Notre Dame this weekend.
“That option’s always on the table,” Tillman said. “We always go week-to-week. We look at who’s going to give us the best option. Jay’s certainly getting a lot of reps, as he always does every week. And we’ll take a look at things and see how we feel as we get a little bit closer.”
Even with limited minutes and a new role off the bench, Carlson has continued to provide the Terps with an offensive spark. Tillman said he planned to use Carlson against the Cavaliers, but the cold and rainy weather prevented him from doing so because he didn’t want to risk Carlson injuring himself. The following Wednesday against the Colonials, though, Carlson earned significantly more playing time and led the Terps with four goals, tying his season high.
“That’s Jay being Jay,” Tillman said after the win. “It was great to get [him] in there, and he did what Jay always does: Just find the back of the net.”
Carlson came off the bench again against the Blue Jays but was restricted to playing primarily during man-up opportunities. And while the Terps were exceptional with an extra man — they scored on four of their six chances — the group struggled mightily at full strength. The Terps’ first goal with an even number of players on both sides came with 7:56 remaining in regulation, and they scored only one more goal in the same situation.
“We got away from what we practiced all week,” Carlson said. “Against a good defense like Hopkins, we need to move it, we need to have longer possessions and we need to be more patient.”
The Terps’ shot selection was poor Saturday, and they took more long shots that goalkeeper Eric Schneider gobbled up. Carlson is known for his off-ball movement and crease play and perhaps could have provided the Terps with close-range looks in even situations.
“He’s really good in that regard,” Tillman said. “He’s as good as we have.”
Ultimately, Tillman said, his lineup depends heavily on the teams the Terps face each week. In the past three games, the fourth-year coach didn’t include Carlson in the game plan in part because the matchups against the Cavaliers and Blue Jays didn’t favor the attackman’s playing style.
And Carlson — who midfielder Mike Chanenchuk said is one of the team’s strongest leaders both on and off the field — understands why he’s been moved out of the starting lineup.
“We have a lot of talent,” Carlson said. “So the starting lineup can change and vary from game to game.”