Archives for posts with tag: Lacrosse

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.

 

PORTIONS PREVIOUSLY APPEARING ON WTOP.COM–

For 40-plus years in College Park, the mantra was “wait until next year” as one Maryland men’s lacrosse team after another fell short of winning a National Championship.  Local rivals like Johns Hopkins and ACC foes like Virginia tallied titles while the Terps wondered what was necessary to get to the next level.  There were blowouts and there were heartbreaks, bad calls and worse mistakes over four decades…until last year became next year.  The Terps’ 9-6 win in the 2017 Championship Game over Ohio State brought generations of Maryland players and coaches together, and now next year is technically last year for the team that plays this year.  See how easy it is for defending champs to trip over themselves, even if only from a semantics standpoint?

The tone for the 2018 season was set early and often.  Senior goalie Dan Morris says “this year’s whole mantra is, we’re not the defending champs-we’re the attacking champs.  This is a whole different group of guys and a whole different scenario.”  It’s good to have Morris back;  after starting all 19 teams for the national champs the Dallas, Texas native finished second in the Big Ten in goals against average and saves per game.   All-Big Ten selection Curtis Corley is more than happy to have Dan between the pipes again this May.  Corley says, “he’s so talented in that he’s gonna make those stops that are routine. And he’s gonna make those stops that go–wow, that was a good one. Way to go Dan!”

A senior leads the attack as well:  Big Ten Offensive Player of the Year Connor Kelly led the Terps with 40 goals and 33 assists. Kelly compliments his supporting cast: “we have a great group, athletic group, high-IQ group. We play as a unit and not 1-v-7,  that’s our biggest focus.”  The Terps rank 13th in goals per game and hit another gear when going man-up (lacrosse’s version of the power play):  only Lehigh was more effective than Maryland’s 57% success rate.

Despite falling to Johns Hopkins in the Big Ten Championship Game, the Terrapins enter the tournament as the #1 seed and get Robert Morris in the first round following the Colonials 12-6 win over Canisius.  The Northeast Conference champs rank 3rd nationally in scoring defense. “They just got some big defensemen,” Kelly says, “they’re like six-foot-five or above on some of them.  Got a lot of length-and obviously they’re a smart defense.”  The Terps will begin its NCAA Tournament run at home for the sixth straight May, and the defending national champs are looking forward to spending 60 more minutes on the Maryland Stadium Field.  Morris says, “We love our stadium. We’re gonna have a good group of fans there.  We’re just excited to have one more game together and one more game in our stadium.”  The first round’s faceoff is slated for noon Sunday.  This year.

Short Stick Spotlights:

Georgetown (12-4) qualified by winning the Big East Tournament.  The Hoyas are tied for sixth in scoring defense…with senior goalie Nick Marrocco logging 917 of the 960  minutes between the pipes.  They might be a year away from making noise in the tournament, as the offense is led by sophomore Jake Carraway (43 goals and 20 assists) and junior Daniel Bucaro (34 goals in 12 games).  The Hoyas visit #5 Johns Hopkins Sunday at 5 p.m.

5th seeded Johns Hopkins (11-4) won the Big Ten Tournament by beating Maryland one week after losing to the Terps in triple-overtime.  The Blue Jays rebounded from an early 1-2 start under the steady hand of senior triggermen Joel Tinney (18 goals and 30 assists) and Shack Stanwick (17 goals, 29 assists and the best name on the team).  Causes for concern could be special teams:  Hopkins ranked 34th (out of 63 schools) on man-up offense (lacrosse’s version of the power play) and 35th on man-down (aka the penalty kill).  The Blue Jays host Georgetown Sunday at 5 p.m.

6th seeded Loyola Maryland (12-3) hasn’t lost since March 24 and is the Patriot League Champ.  The Greyhounds made the Final Four two years ago and return their leading scorer from that team in junior attacker Pat Spencer (31 goals and 55 assists);  the difference is this year senior Jay Drapeau has blossomed (39 goals) into a major threat as well.  Loyola uses its defense to fuel its attack, ranking second in the nation in turnovers caused per game.  Their road to Foxborough begins at home Saturday against Virginia.

Virginia (12-5)  went 1-3 in the ACC but brings the 7th best offense into the tournament;  youth has been served with sophomores Michael Kraus (43 goals with 37 assists-good enough for 7th in the nation) and Dox Aitken (35 goals–and named after his Uncle Cider no doubt) plus freshman Ian Laviano (35 goals in his rookie campaign).  The Cavaliers are also one of the better faceoff teams in the tournament (13th nationally), which takes more of a priority in a possession minded postseason.  Saturday’s game at Loyola Maryland starts at 7:15 p.m.

Richmond (11-5) rides a six-game winning streak into the Tournament that includes winning the Southern Conference in overtime against Jacksonville;  the 12th best man-up offense in the nation is led by the one-two punch of junior Teddy Hatfield and freshman Ryan Lanchbury (sadly there are no McCoys on the Richmond roster).  Problem is…the first round opponent (#2 Albany) leads the nation in scoring and ranks #1 on faceoffs.  The Spiders on faceoffs?  A less than ideal 57th.  They visit the Great Danes at 5 p.m. Saturday.

 

 

 

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

 

Previously appearing on WTOP.COM…

Do we actually refer to the NCAA Mens Division I Lacrosse Tournament as “May Madness” or “Mayhem”?  Four area schools head to Quarterfinal action this weekend in Providence, Rhode Island and Columbus, Ohio for the right to participate in Memorial Day Weekend’s Final Four at Philadelphia.  This weekend’s mix involves a team of destiny, an upstart facing huge odds, and defensive duel in a different battle of the beltway (albeit the one in Baltimore).  As we are deep into wedding season…instead of something old, new, borrowed & blue we get something Terps, something (Navy) Blue, something (Loyola) Greyhound and something new (Towson reaching its first quarterfinal since 2003).

 

Saturday in Providence–

NOON-#1 Maryland (15-2) takes on #8 Syracuse (12-4)– the Terps have won 14 straight and appear to be on track to capture the school’s first National Championship since 1975.  Led by junior attacker Matt Rambo (35 goals and 22 assists) and a defense that ranks sixth nationally (7.76 goals against), this is the best team in coach John Tillman’s tenure.  And the former Harvard mentor has had a knack of getting the best out of his teams in the tournament;  since coming to College Park, Tillman’s Terps are 4-0 in the quarterfinals (including a 6-5 upset of top-seeded Syracuse in 2011).  The Orange are a deceptive four-loss team…with three of their defeats coming in overtime.  Since switching goaltenders from Warren Hill to Evan Molloy Syracuse has won 7 of 8 (the lone loss coming in overtime at Cornell).  Penalties will be pivotal- as Maryland’s 3rd in the nation man-down defense will have its hands full with the Orange’s 5th rated man-up attack, but the Terps have more than a good chance to exploit a less than effective Syracuse man-down defense (61st nationally).

 

230pm- Navy (11-4) battles #5 Brown (15-2)– the Midshipmen are fresh off an upset of #4 Yale while the Bruins enjoy a little home-field advantage (the Ivy League school just happens to be located in Providence).  Chalk this up as a classic matchup of unstoppable force against immovable object.  Can the Midshipmen defense (#2 in the nation at 7.13 goals per game) contain the number one scoring team in the country (Bruins averaging over 16 goals per game)?  The Bruins boast three of the top eight goal-scorers in the nation in Dylan Molloy, Kylor Bellistri and Henry Blynn…while Molloy leads Division I Lacrosse in assists per game.  The Mids’ man-down defense also leaves a lot to be desired–rating 53rd out of 68 D-I schools.  Goalie John Connors, you will deserve your postgame rubdown after being peppered with shots all day.  Did we mention Connors’ counterpart Jack Kelly leads the nation in saves percentage?  Navy fans may have picked the wrong week to stop drinking coffee.

 

Sunday in Columbus–

230pm- #7 Loyola of Maryland (13-3) faces Towson (15-2)– the Battle of Baltimore area schools takes place roughly 400 miles away from the Charm City.  While the Greyhounds outscored Duke in the first round, the Tigers upset defending National Champ and #2 seed Denver thanks to a defense that allows the fewest goals in the country.  Their test this week is Loyola’s Pat Spencer;  the freshman ranks third in Division I in scoring with 33 goals and 46 assists.  Towson’s Tyler White is the only goalie to allow fewer than seven goals a game…and the redshirt-senior also ranks 11th in saves percentage.  Loyola freshman Jacob Stover would rank third in goals-against average and second in saves percentage if he had played enough minutes to qualify.  Stover will have one eye at all times on Towson sniper Joe Seider (35 goals and 135 shots lead the Tigers).