It’s almost funny now that, when his father asked him if he wanted to play lacrosse as a kid, Andrew Ternahan was, admittedly, pretty terrified.
Growing up in Bethany Beach and around Breakers Surf Shop, which his family has owned for years and which he now manages, the rising senior at Salisbury University didn’t know much about the fastest game on two feet — back then.
Sure, there were some kids from Baltimore or Bethesda playing catch on the beach every once a summer or so, but not many area high schools had teams back in those days.
One school that did have a lacrosse program, however, was Worcester Preparatory School in nearby Berlin, Md. After enrolling there and eventually transferring to Stephan Decatur High School for his junior and senior seasons, his views on the sport changed pretty drastically.
Not only was Ternahan no longer weary of getting out on the field, but fast-forward to 2016, and he was one of the recent national champion Salisbury University men’s lacrosse team’s most fearless players — starting at long-stick midfield for the Gulls on both face-offs and six-on-six defense, leading the team in ground balls by a whopping 20-GB margin, and scooping up an unprecedented 104 total rolling blank rubber spheres on the season.
Also tacking on six goals and seven assists during Salisbury’s historic 23-1 run this spring, the collective junior campaign from a kid who grew up on Sussex County soccer and surfing was enough to warrant not only first-team All ECAC-South honors, but USILA All-American honors as well.
“It’s pretty cool. It was pretty surreal once it actually happened,” Ternahan said, noting that he found out the news just a day before the national championship game against Tufts on Sunday, May 29.
“Just knowing that everything you had done the whole season was coming to an end and that people acknowledged the work you put in throughout it — it felt pretty good.”
The Gulls only loss on the season came in the Capital Athletic Conference championship game against York College of Pennsylvania. After rolling the Spartans 17-5 during the regular season, Ternahan and his teammates saw their perfect season spoiled with a 10-9 loss in the title game on April 30.
While some extenuating circumstances before the game may have contributed the seemingly uncharacteristic loss, Ternahan said it changed things for the better as the team headed into the NCAA tournament.
“I think, after that, it was kind of a huge wakeup call. That loss was, honestly, the best thing that could have happened to us,” he said. “I think we went into the playoffs more confident than we had been all season. The spirits were way high — there was no way that we were gonna let it slip away again.”
He noted that the team was playing for the seniors — who, without the 2016 title, would have become the first class to graduate without a championship ring since SU won its first of now 11 national championships in 1994. So Ternahan, and the rest of the Gulls, turned it on for the playoffs.
First, they rolled Catholic, 19-6, in Round 1; then, Colorado College, 16-5, in Round 2.
In both games, Ternahan tallied a goal and assist, playing defense at LSM.
“It was cool to have a home game for the playoffs; it was cool to be starting. The momentum that everybody brought was really great; the fan base was incredible. It was honestly just unreal,” Ternahan said of the start to the playoffs and amped-up individual performance.
“I just kind of relaxed once I started playing, started to get way more confident in myself. I like playing on the big stage, honestly.”
After an 11-10 OT victory over No. 6 Denison in the NCAA quarterfinals and a 14-6 win over No. 5 Gettysburg, it was on to the finals against No. 4 Tufts at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia.
Fresh off the All-American news, the Gulls marched into “The Linc” determined not to let their seniors down. With a 14-13 win, they not only clinched the 11th national championship title for head coach Jim Berkman and the school but sent the Class of 2016 out with those prized rings.
“A lot of it was honestly for those guys — they deserved it. It felt good winning it for them rather than for myself. That’s what felt really good, to see them get it,” Ternahan said, noting that the accomplishment didn’t quite settle in until a few days later, when he was back in Bethany Beach and working at Breakers for the summer once again.
“It didn’t really kick in until a couple of days later. That was unreal, waking up and realizing that we did the best that anyone could do — everything paid off. We made it.”
While he noted that hoisting the national championship trophy with his teammates and seeing his face up on the Jumbotron at Lincoln Financial was pretty special in itself, Ternahan said that the coolest thing so far has been the support from the Bethany Beach community, and seeing more kids interested in playing lacrosse and coming up to Breakers to talk to him about it.
“There’d be a couple games where I didn’t know who was gonna be there for me, and after the game I’d see all the local people at the game — it was pretty cool,” he said of the community support.
“Now, I see a bunch of the local kids working in town playing lacrosse. To see somebody from the same place see that it’s possible — it’s pretty surreal.”
Headed into his senior campaign, the Gulls will return their starting goalie, entire defense and attack unit, and several key midfielders. And, of course, they’ll be going for another ring next spring.