With each new season coach John Tillman has spent in College Park, his Terrapins men’s lacrosse team has opened its schedule at an earlier date.
In Tillman’s first year with the program in 2011, the Terps played their regular-season opener on Feb. 19. The following year, the season began on Feb. 18, and in 2013, the opening game moved almost a week earlier to Feb. 12.
This season, the Terps opened against Mount St. Mary’s on Saturday, and Feb. 8 marked the earliest the program has started a season in 89 years of existence. Temperatures hovered around freezing for the Terps’ 16-3 victory over the Mountaineers on Saturday, and snowflakes began to fall moments after the final whistle.
Moving the season opener earlier and earlier means the cold weather and its effects are having more of an impact on the players. And the trend is triggering concern from Tillman, who sees the risk of injury increasing as a result.
“You have to be careful,” Tillman said. “If you’re going to start this early, you’ve really got to manage what you’re doing during the week.”
Tillman said the primary way his players overcome the cold is maintaining consistent communication with team trainer Amelia Sesma and strength and conditioning coach Mike Szemborski. Each week, Sesma and Szemborski meet with Tillman and the team captains to go over each player’s health in terms of injuries and fatigue.
“We do take that into consideration in terms of what we practice and who practices and the tempo that we’re going at,” Tillman said. “If a guy is a little nicked up, he may not do quite as much.”
Freshmen attackmen Tim Rotanz and Colin Heacock are examples of Tillman’s injury approach. Rotanz (lower body) and Heacock (upper body) both suffered injuries during the preseason, forcing them to miss the opener against the Mountaineers. They returned to practice this week but only participated in select drills to ensure an easy transition into the regular-season grind.
Tillman said both Rotanz and Heacock made substantial progress this week, though he’s not ready to definitively clear either for Saturday’s contest against UMBC at Byrd Stadium.
Forecasts project a high of about 32 degrees on game day in College Park, and the Terps will again have to brave freezing temperatures to emerge with a victory.
For midfielder Mike Chanenchuk, though, it’s simply about the mindset.
“You’ve got to be ready no matter if it’s 100 degrees or 20 degrees,” Chanenchuk said. “We kind of take the same approach every day. And if you look at it that way, then the weather’s not going be a factor.”