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It takes a special team to win a National Championship in Men’s College Lacrosse.  Just ask Maryland.  The Terps advanced to 19 Final Fours in between its 1975 and 2017 only to be thwarted one way or another by the Syracuses and Johns Hopkins of the world.  Last year’s title squad won three of its four tournament games by three goals or fewer.  Come May the little things become big and the big things become huge.  It takes a special group to win four games over three weekends.

The Terrapins head to Foxborough, Massachusetts for the Final Four on the strength of the best Special Teams combination in Division I:  Maryland ranks 2nd in Man-Up Offense (lacrosse’s equivalent of hockey’s power play) and 5th on Man-Down Defense (the lax version of the penalty kill).  Of the other three schools playing this weekend, only Duke has a specialty unit ranking in the top ten (6th on Man-Up Offense).  Coach John Tillman said, “We devote a lot of time to special teams–we feel like it’s a big part of any game. I do think it could be a big part this weekend.”

In charge of the two units are the Terrapin assistant coaches.  J.L. Reppert primarily works with the offense and has made the Man-Up Unit into a force that scores on 58% of its opportunities.  Coach Tillman said, “On the offensive end we have typically six really skilled kids out there– that group has great chemistry.  Coach Reppert’s done an awesome job putting the pieces together.”  Reppert’s grown into his role with the senior class.  Senior Midfielder Connor Kelly said, “I think we just have a group that’s really smart with and without the ball. With coach Reppert being in his fourth year he’s helped us out in preparation…and we’ve been thrown at us a bunch of different looks (by opponents).”

Sophomore attacker Jared Bernhardt leads the team with seven Man-Up goals, but Kelly (45 goals overall this year) receives a huge portion of the defense’s attention–much to the delight of the coaching staff. “When they take Connor away it takes the whole situation from a 6-on-5 to a 5-on-4,” Tillman said,”Connor’s presence is huge for that–and then it’s just having guys zip the ball around and have good spacing.and those guys are so unselfish.”  After losing championship games as a freshman and sophomore before last May’s title, the captain is more than happy to share the offensive wealth if results in a repeat of 2017.  Kelly said, “If we just keep moving it…any guy on that man-up unit is able to put the ball in the back of the net.”

Directing the Man-Down Defense that denies foes on 78% of opportunities is 2013 graduate Jesse Bernhardt.  The 2012 ACC Co-Defensive Player of the Year returned to College Park last summer after successful stints at Rutgers and Princeton, and has made an instant impact at his Alma Mater.  Senior goalie Dan Morris said, “He puts in a great scheme for us and gets us ready for every game.  We have guys who have good sticks who are really good on man-down.  Our unit’s a pretty close group and they do what they do well.”  Senior co-captain Bryce Young along with junior Curtis Corley anchor a Man-Down crew that is as stingy as the Man-Up is efficient.

How many times both units will be tested this weekend is anyone’s guess.  In two tournament games thus far the Terps have committed four penalties while being in the Man-Up just once (freshman phenom Bubba Fairman scored against Cornell).  Will we see the refs swallow their whistles in Foxborough?  “Historically the later you go the more they let you play, which i think most coaches would like,” coach Tillman said, “I think you’re talking about four teams that have gotten there for a reason and you’re getting the best officials.  My gut is it will be a more physical weekend.”  The Terps face former ACC foe Duke at 2:30 p.m on Saturday.

 

The other semifinal pits #2 Albany (16-2) against #3 Yale (15-3) at noon Saturday.  The Great Danes lead the nation in scoring and winning faceoffs while the Bulldogs rank fourth in goals per game.  Albany’s Achilles has been a man-down unit that is the most generous of teams playing this weekend (52nd in Division I).

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