Thanks in part to one of the most productive midfields in Division I, the Maryland men's lacrosse team is off to a 6-1 start that included a four-week stay atop The Baltimore Sun's rankings.
Perhaps even more impressive is that the experienced trio of John Haus, Mike Chanenchuk and Jake Bernhardt — two seniors and a junior — have been on the field together only since January.
Haus and Bernhardt played together in 2011 while Chanenchuk sat out the season after transferring from Princeton. Haus and Chanenchuk played last year after Bernhardt broke his collarbone and missed the campaign. And in the fall, Haus and Chanenchuk were on the field sparingly while overcoming nagging injuries.
Despite the absences, the threesome said it has not been difficult building a sense of cohesion since coming together in the preseason.
"We just had to assimilate to one another," said Bernhardt, a fifth-year senior. "I don't think it's been too difficult. I think we've been playing pretty well together."
Added Chanenchuk, a junior: "It didn't really take too long for all three of us to get on the same page. In the preseason, we worked and kind of just meshed. That was pretty easy to do."
The play of Haus, Chanenchuk and Bernhardt figures to be a decisive factor as No. 5 Maryland meets No. 13 Virginia (5-4) at Klockner Stadium in Charlottesville, Va., at 2 p.m. Saturday. In fact, ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra — who will be part of the network's providing coverage for Saturday's game — said the host Cavaliers would be wise to pay a good deal of attention to that starting midfield.
"I think Maryland has the deepest and most dynamic offensive midfield group in the nation because you have guys like Mike Chanenchuk, who scored a ton of goals at the college level when he was at Princeton and then he transferred to Maryland," the former Syracuse All-American midfielder said. "John Haus is a first-team All-American-type player. Jake Bernhardt is a two-way burner that can play between the lines. … They not only have star power, but they also have versatility in their midfield."
Haus, a Lutherville native, leads the midfield in points with 17 and ranks second on the team in assists with seven. Chanenchuk is fourth in points with 16, and Bernhardt is tied for second in goals with 12.
While Haus, Chanenchuk and Bernhardt rank second, third and fourth on the team in points, respectively, each has a different style of play.
Bernhardt likes to run full speed at defenders and dodge down the alleys. Chanenuck boasts a heavy, hard shot from the perimeter. Haus excels at using a variety of moves from the wings.
Bernhardt compared his style to that of Drew Snider, who started with Haus and Chanenchuk last season and has since graduated. Bernhardt said that similarity with Snider has aided his transition with his linemates.
"Hausey and Chuk got to play with Drew, and the season before that, I played with Hausey and Drew," Bernhardt said. "I guess me having a similar style to Drew didn't really cause too much of a disruption within the line, and it gave Chuk a chance to play with different guys."
The midfielders are different off the field, too. Bernhardt is regarded as the jokester. ("He's got some good ones up his sleeve," Chanenchuk said.) Haus and Chanenchuk are the quiet ones. (Bernhardt joked that they have to be really irritated to voice their displeasure with something but added, "They're both good guys.")
The trio did run into a roadblock in Maryland's 10-8 loss to North Carolina — a setback that knocked the Terps from the top ranking. The first line combined for four goals and one assist, but all those points occurred in the second half, after the Tar Heels had seized a 9-3 advantage.
Maryland coach John Tillman said the onus is on the threesome to be more active earlier in games.
"I think we certainly rely on those guys for a lot with their play between the lines, either offensively or defensively," he said. "But I think those guys are pretty prideful guys, and they certainly want to play better. For us to be where we want to be, we just need those guys to play at a higher level, whether it's decision-making, speed of play, finishing our shots. I think those guys will. They've been a big part of our success so far, and again, they're guys with high standards. They'll get better this week."
Haus was especially frustrated that he and his linemates combined for 19 shots but produced just four goals.
"For us to only score four, to us, that's not acceptable," he said. "If we're taking 20 shots, we should be scoring more than four goals. So for us, that's been something that we've been working on for Saturday, and we'll continue to work on that throughout the year."
A win over Virginia would move the Terps to 2-1 in Atlantic Coast Conference play and put further distance between them and the loss to North Carolina. Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said his team's defense will have its hands full with Haus, Chanenchuk and Bernhardt.
"They have tremendous balance all the way through," Starsia said. "We usually stack the guys up 1, 2 and 3 and [see] which one we're going to pole. But with their guys, it doesn't matter where they fall, because they are all dangerous in equal ways. Haus is a tenacious competitor. Chanenchuk is a great shooter and Bernhardt is crazy athletic. It's a tough matchup because all three are dangerous. You try to manage their midfield. You don't talk about shutting it down, but keeping it under control."
Baltimore Sun reporter Mike Preston contributed to this article.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times