Archives for posts with tag: Final Four

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM

 

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).

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

The Maryland Women’s Lacrosse team is in the Final Four–again.  Ten straight appearances in the national semifinals means that, bear with me here, that not only has every senior been on four straight Final Four teams- no senior has played with anyone who played with anyone at Maryland who was on a Terps team that didn’t make the Final Four.  No easy task.  Just like winning a second straight national title this weekend will be no easy task as they battle Boston College at 7:30 Friday in the Semifinals-one year after beating the Eagles in the National Championship Game.

The seeds to this year’s senior class were planted over ten years ago.  Senior attacker Megan Whittle says, “The coolest thing about my class–there’s seven of us now–is that we’re all from Maryland and four of us played on the same club team together.  Since we were eight or nine.” The addition of transfer Kathy Rudkin from Syracuse bolstered a defense that lost plenty of talent to graduation-and gives the Terps eight seniors who contribute on and off the field.  “I’m just fortunate and blessed to have a team full of amazing women,” coach Cathy Reese says, “they’re all just terrific people and that’s what it’s all about.  From Megan Whittle who leads the team with 83 goals to Emma Moss who saw action in just four games this year, Reese’s senior class and team is more than a collection of talent but a group of teammates.  “What Cathy’s been able to do is bring 37 girls together, get everybody on the same page and focused towards the same goal. And have everyone love every moment of it,” Whittle says, “And that is something that is very hard to do–especially with 37 girls of college age.”

This year’s senior class leaves College Park with a 47-0 home record…setting the standard while also laying the groundwork for the 2019 and 2020 teams. “They mean the world (to me)”, says junior goalie Megan Taylor, “I’ve actually been playing with Megan Whittle since Rec (league)–and Taylor Hensh I grew up playing COBRA (travel lacrosse) with. Just being able to watch them grow and watch them become the leaders that they are, it’s really something special.”  But the mood around campus is not one of celebration this week–it’s one of focus.  “This senior class has had such an impressive ride and accomplishment, but it’s important that we don’t take anything for granted,” coach Cathy Reese says, “it took a lot of work to get here and there’s a lot of work still to be done going into this weekend.”  And that’s exactly where Megan Whittle wanted to be-and she gets to be there one more weekend in her playing career.  “When I was 15 years old and decided to commit to Maryland, that’s what I signed up for,” Whittle said, “And here it is, happening. My senior class had a very successful tradition of winning National Championships and Big Ten Championships–but the coolest part is that is isn’t over yet”.

 

In the other semifinal–

#2 North Carolina (17-3) faces #3 James Madison (20-1) at 5 p.m..  After a slow start the Tar Heels enter Memorial Day weekend on a 12-game winning streak that includes an ACC Championship.  The Dukes boast the fourth best defense in Division I and are led on offense by Kristen Gaudian (74 goals) and Katie Kerrigan (53 assists).  Gaudian and Elena Romesburg each scored 5 goals in the February meeting between the two schools that was won by JMU in overtime.

 

PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM-

Brenda Frese enters her 15th season at the helm in College Park.  She’s built a program that’s won ACC and Big Ten titles…while becoming a fixture in the Sweet Sixteen and Final Four.  This fall she welcomes the number one recruiting class-and if there’s anyone who can successfully maximize six freshmen and a transfer into a 31-win team, it’s Frese. “For me, this is my favorite part,” Frese said, “blending the pieces…figuring out who goes where…what their strengths are and forming your team.”  She has a history of making things work:  the 2006 National Championship team featured two freshmen starters and Frese’s 2014 Final Four team received major contributions from multiple freshmen.

The freshmen from the 2014 Final Four team are now seniors.  Shatori Walker-Kimbrough had a breakout junior campaign, averaging 20 points and 6 rebounds per game while leading the team in blocked shots and finishing second in steals.  Each season the Aliquippa, PA product has come back with extra wrinkles to her game.  What is Shatori looking to add this fall?  “Be that puzzle piece…or that flexible, that versatile player coach needs me to be,” Walker-Kimbrough said, “if she needs me to rebound or strictly defend, be that player.”  Brionna Jones is the other senior on this roster…and the low-post fixture averaged 15 points and 10 rebounds as a junior with the highlight reel of a 24 point performance against #1 UConn.  Both Walker-Kimbrough and Jones are more than just productive on the floor. “What I’ve been most impressed from them with has been the leadership piece- of blending these six freshmen and our new players,” Frese said, “we are definitely playing for these two seniors this season.”

 

The Terps incoming freshman class boasts both quantity and quality:  the six-player class is headlined by Meridian, Idaho’s Destiny Slocum.  “Her motor is just incredible,” junior guard Kristen Confroy said,”she just runs all over the place. And her talent as a basketball player is largely due to her openness to learning-she’s always asking questions.  I’m really excited to play with her.”  Slocum’s one of three five-star recruits in the six-player class:  six-foot-five Jenna Staiti will provide depth down low while wing players Blair Watson and Kaila Charles will add perimeter presence on both ends of the floor.

In the Terps’ two preseason games, both Slocum and Charles started while all six saw extensive time on the floor.  What also helped the blending of the incoming talent to an already stacked roster was the team’s summer trip to Italy.  “It just really helped because we really got some game feel,” Slocum said, “and just being in an uncomfortable area and a place we didn’t know.  Which is an important part of bonding-on and off the floor.”  With upperclassmen Kiara Leslie and Aja Ellison redshirting due to injuries, it’s that much more important for the new kids to contribute.

Different year, similar expectations.  The Maryland women’s basketball team starts the 2016-17 season as Big Ten favorites and in the top ten nationally (#6 in the writers’ rankings, #5 in the coaches’ poll).  “We really don’t talk about rankings or preseason and where people select us,” Frese said,”because for us…obviously we want to be there at the end.  For us it’s just about getting better.”  The Big Ten boasts a new-found nemesis in Ohio State as the Buckeyes beat the Terps twice last year but finished behind Maryland in the standings and were upset in the conference tournament.  They begin the year ranked one spot behind the Terrapins in both national polls.  Indiana, Michigan State and Michigan are also expected to contend for NCAA Tournament berths.  Two non-conference games jump off the schedule:  a December 1st trip to #5 Louisville in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge…and a December 29th showdown in College Park against four-time defending champ UConn.

 

 

 

Portions previously appearing on WTOP.COM

Memorial Day Weekend will be a convenient one for many in the Maryland Athletic Department as well as Sports Information Office.  Division I holds its Mens and Womens Final Fours in the same city (albeit at different venues), giving Terrapin boosters a chance to “bundle” their National Championship hopes.  Both teams enter the weekend as #1 seeds and prohibitive favorites.  Can the school pull off the first lacrosse double-dip since Princeton in 1994?

 

For the Maryland women (22-0), the Final Four that was once a goal to reach is now a standard to be met by Cathy Reese’s program.  Eight straight trips to the National Semifinals.  That means not only has every player on this team been on a Final Four squad, but everyone they’ve played with during their careers has also suited up during the National Semifinals.  “You’re a little six-year old playing lacrosse, this is what you dream of,” explains sophomore attacker Megan Whittle,”I’ve always wanted to be wearing a Maryland uniform playing in the Final Four…on the biggest stage.”  Whittle’s 69 goals entering the Final Four paced the team and helped them reach this stage (she has the most goals per game of any player still in the tournament).

For a team that’s won two straight National Championships and began 2016 ranked #1, this was a team that still needed to find itself.  Coach Cathy Reese says, “we returned five starters off of last years group, so we had a lot of work to do.  I think our chemistry is really unique this year.  We’re playing with a lot of confidence and great energy.”  The Terps lead the nation in scoring with 15.38 goals per game.  In addition to Whittle, senior Zoe Stukenberg and Taylor Cummings provide the necessary firepower.

When you reach the Final Four eight straight years, the last weekend in May not only becomes competition for the current team but an annual pilgrimage for Reese’s former players.  Stukenberg has had a chance to witness two previous “reunion weekends”, saying “almost everyone who has played in those Fours will be there cheering us on Friday. I think that’s one of the most special parts about being a Terp during championship weekend.  They’re all over the country, and everyone makes an effort to come and support us.”  Instead of the fans in the stands though or even the opponent, Cathy Reese looks inward, “for us, our focus is all about Maryland…what do we need to do to be prepared for anything that we see.  This is what you work for…the chance to get out there and compete in this venue.”

After beating Syracuse 19-9 in the National Semifinals Friday night, the the Terps tangle with 3rd seeded North Carolina (19-2) in Sunday’s Championship game.  UNC beat Penn State 12-11 in the early semifinal to earn its berth in the title game.  Maryland won the regular season matchup 8-7 on February 27th in Chapel Hill.  Sunday’s showdown starts at noon.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Maryland men (16-2) may be facing Brown (16-2), but the Terps are also confronting a 40+ year title drought as well as facing down the ghosts of last year’s Championship Game loss to Denver.  Senior Matt Dunn remembers that day all too well:  “I don’t think it’s something we want to make too much of a deal out of…but I feel it’s definitely a source of motivation knowing we worked hard last year and didn’t get to achieve our goal–but now have another chance to.”  This season they’re leaving nothing to chance, entering the Final Four on a 15-game winning streak.  How hot has this team been?  Their closest margin of victory in the Big Ten and NCAA Tournaments has been 6 goals.

This is the fifth time in six years since coming to College Park that coach John Tillman has the Terps this far;  as opposed to previous editions that were seeded 6th and 7th before reaching the final weekend this has been his first team seeded #1.  Tillman acknowleges, “We don’t have that known faceoff commodity (this year)…and we’ve had more of our ups and downs there.  I think we’re a little more a deeper team…which we hope we may be able to turn into an advantage.”  Five players have 20 or more goals, led by Matt Rambo’s 39 (the junior ranks second on the team with 24 assists).  Senior Bryan Cole is the team’s top distributor with 27 assists this spring.

But make no mistake, Saturday’s showdown will come down to how Maryland defends Brown’s offense.  A lot will be on the shoulders of senior goalie Kyle Bernlohr, who says “the style they play is pretty free-flowing…they’re a transition-heavy team.  They’re loaded at every position…and can find the back of the net.”  The Bruins lead the nation in scoring with 16.44 goals per game and the Terps allow the fourth fewest goals in Division I (while their man-down unit ranks 3rd).  They likely won’t have the nations #1 assist man in Dylan Molloy, who injured his right foot in their NCAA First Round game against Johns Hopkins and didn’t play last weekend against Navy.  Even without Molloy, Brown boasts two of the top ten scorers in the nation in Kylor Bellistri and Henry Blynn.  Bellistri & Blynn.  Sounds like a law firm I don’t want to be on the other side of a big case against.

 

The other semifinal features Loyola of Maryland (14-3) against North Carolina (10-6) in the upset-riddled half of the bracket;  the Greyhounds were the #7 seed and the Tar Heels had to shock Marquette and Notre Dame to reach Philadelphia.  While Loyola is just four years removed from winning it all in 2012 they’re also one season away from missing the tournament entirely. Coach Charlie Toomey’s team arrives in Philadelphia this weekend fresh off a 10-8 quarterfinal triumph over Towson. Pat Spencer has been the catalyst this year for an offense that ranks 24th in Division I; his 83 points (on 36 goals and 47 assists) are more than double anyone else on the roster. The Tar Heels are in search of their first National Championship in 25 years…and boast the 7th best offense in the nation with triggerman Steve Pontrello ranking 8th in goals per game. UNC is also dominant on special teams: 8th best in man-up and 7th best in man-down situations. Once again, a lot will be on the shoulders of Jacob Stover (2nd nationally in saves percentage and goals-against average). He was able to keep Towson at bay; can he and the nation’s 9th best defense contain the Tar Heels?

 

Saturday Faceoff Times:

Noon—Loyola-North Carolina

2:30pm-Maryland-Brown

 

Appearing on yesterday’s WTOP Sports Page–

One of the nice rewards covering womens college basketball is that unlike the mens game, the elite players remain for their full four years.  No “one & dones”, “two & throughs”, or even “three and outs”.  For the contending programs, it almost feels like the mens game in the 1980s when the Ralph Sampsons and Patrick Ewings played out their entire eligibility.  Programs like UConn, Notre Dame and Tennessee reload and pad stacked rosters for future tournament runs.  Over the last decade Maryland became one of those programs…which makes the departure of their most electrifying underclassman all the more difficult to take.

The University of Maryland announces that sophomore Lexie Brown has been granted a release and plans to transfer from the school.  Brown is from the Atlanta suburb of Suwannee, Georgia.  She helped lead the Terps to consecutive Final Fours as a freshman and sophomore while also leading the school to an 18-0 conference record during the program’s first season in the Big Ten.  Brown took Most Outstanding Player honors as the Terrapins won the Big Ten Tournament before averaging 11 points, 5 rebounds and 3 assists during the team’s NCAA Tournament run. For the fans in College Park who were wondering how much better the 1st team all-conference selection would get over the next two winters, the wondering ends.

“I want to thank Coach Frese, the staff and my teammates for two great seasons at the University of Maryland,” Brown said. “After talking with my family, I thought it was in my best interest to continue my education and pursue playing basketball at a university closer to my home. I truly enjoyed the friendships that I made and the outstanding support of the great Terp fans during my time in College Park.”

Brown was second on the team in scoring while leading the team in assists, steals and three-point shots made.  Her departure means that coach Brenda Frese loses her top two scorers (fifth-year senior Laurin Mincy wrapped up her eligibility at the Final Four) and now has to replace what many feel is the toughest position to replace:  starting point guard.

“We appreciate all of Lexie’s contributions these past two years to our program,” Frese said. “With two Final Four appearances, a Big Ten regular season and tournament championship, it’s been an incredible ride. We wish Lexie nothing but happiness and success in her future.”

Options for Coach Frese this fall will include redshirt senior Brene Moseley;  the Paint Branch High school product averaged 6 points and 3 assists off the bench as a freshman before missing the next year with a torn ACL.  Rising senior Chloe Pavlech stepped into the starting role after Moseley went down in 2012-13 and notched 4 assists a game playing major minutes as a freshman.  Kristen Confroy was more of a shooter off the bench this past winter as a freshman but showed the ability to handle the ball as well.

Maryland after a 34-3 record with four underclassmen starters was expected to be a Preseason Final Four pick this fall…and they should still be ranked and perhaps even a favorite to repeat as Big Ten champ.  But instead of worrying how the incoming recruits would mesh with a strong nucleus or which returning reserve forwards would make the leap, we now have our offseason question facing coach Brenda Frese and her staff.