Maryland midfielder Kevin Cooper’s unusual Saturday two weeks ago did little but earn him another odd experience.
Suspended for a game after his ejection from a March 24 loss at North Carolina, Cooper watched the Terrapins’ next game from his apartment with his father.
It is not an experience he wishes to repeat.
“It was weird because I never really get nervous for the games or anything,” Cooper said. “I was about to have a heart attack. I was a nervous wreck, freaking out at the TV. It was a weird experience.”
One that will stay with Cooper well beyond his return Friday night when No. 12 Maryland (5-3) plays host to Navy (5-4) at Byrd Stadium.
Cooper’s tumultuous fortnight was uncorked by a quick reaction. He decked North Carolina midfielder Greg McBride with a cross check in the final minute two weeks ago, a hit worthy of a penalty. It also did little to help Maryland, which trailed by two at the time and lost 11-10.
McBride, for his part, was not pleased with the high hit.
“The kid kind of dove at my legs and went to tackle me and I guess my instincts just kicked in,” Cooper said. “It was an out-of-character moment and something that obviously won’t happen again.”
Still, it happened. And he soon became familiar with an NCAA lacrosse rule he had no reason to know. A player ejected for fighting must sit out his team’s next game. Maryland’s next contest was a rematch of last year’s national title game loss to Virginia. There was plenty of time to weigh the impact of the suspension as Maryland’s five-hour bus ride home unfolded.
There would be no penance through moping, however. Cooper spoke with athletic director Kevin Anderson after the game. He sent apology emails to Anderson, associate athletic director Jon Palumbo (Maryland’s sport supervisor for lacrosse) and North Carolina coach Joe Breschi.
The most revealing test, though, came in practice last week. Cooper wasn’t needed to prepare in the midfield, where he has three goals and six assists this season. Instead, he was assigned the unenviable task of attempting to replicate Virginia star Steele Stanwick in practice.
It’s a chore no scout team player can realistically fill perfectly. But Cooper dodged and dodged and dodged some more, mixing in plenty of film study of Stanwick to do his best to contribute.
“I know that’s not his personality, what happened in the North Carolina game,” said sophomore Brian Cooper, Kevin’s brother and a starting defenseman for the Terps. “I know how much it killed him to miss a game. He came out to practice every day that week and worked really hard on our scout team trying to get us ready for Virginia, and I know he’s excited to get back.”
Kevin Cooper’s actions prompted coach John Tillman to lecture the Terps after the North Carolina loss, and there was little doubt the fight disappointed Tillman. Since then, though, Tillman is satisfied with how Cooper handled the incident’s aftermath.
“He’s been mature,” Tillman said. “He’s been very professional with the way he responded. I’ve been pleased with that. Now, he has to continue those types of things.”
Now he will as Maryland attempts to snap its first two-game slide in two years. Cooper will be on the field rather than in his apartment, the lessons of the last two weeks firmly in his mind even as he hopes the issue will soon subside.
That was the general tenor of his return to practice as a midfield regular rather than scout team contributor this week.
“It wasn’t like I was totally gone, but it’s definitely a fresh start,” Cooper said. “It’s good to have it all behind me.”