After two dominant victories over in-state opponents Mount Saint Mary's and UMBC by a combined margin of 30-6, the intensity ratchets up as they face their first true test of the year, last year's NCAA Championship finalists and #2 ranked Syracuse Orange. Syracuse has returned a number of offensive weapons and talent and is gearing up for another run. So this is as good a barometer as you can get in February lacrosse for a young, but very talented Maryland squad. Obviously a difficult test for the media named "Baby Terps" but one they're surely eager to take on and here's a preview of the tasty contest with some notes about the Orange, Terps, and words from Coach Tillman himself.
In his usual Tuesday press conference, Coach Tillman first started with a recap of the teams 14-3 win over UMBC on Saturday in College Park. Tillman preached the effort of the team, particularly on groundballs and on defense and praised the gameplan put in by Coaches Conry and Bernhardt saying "when you can hold a team to 3 goals it says a lot about the gameplan Coach Conry and Bernhardt put in". While the defense has been a staple of Coach Tillman's Maryland teams over the last 3 years, all the pre-season fodder and discussion has been about the offense of Maryland and Tillman had thoughts on them as well. "Offensively, I felt we got a bit better as the game we on, after 1 goal in the 1st Quarter, we found a rhythm", he also mentioned that Maryland is still a work in progress offensively. He added "Very pleased with our effort on the Face Off X and on the wings vs a guy we feel like is really good in Philip Poe" and thought Charlie Raffa put in a particularly good performance and then said it was time to look forward to a Saturday and what he called "a big challenge in front of us" In Syracuse.
Syracuse is an extremely deep and dangerous offensive team. They return numerous fantastic offensive players such as Kevin Rice, Derek Maltz, Dylan Donohue in attack, and Junior Randy Staats has taken an advanced role this year, including a 5 goal display vs Albany in a 17-16 OT win for the Orange this past weekend. While the Orange have lost quite a bit of talent in Midfield, highlighted by the loss of talisman Jo Jo Marasco (who wore legendary #22 for the Orange) and key contributors Steve Ianzito and Luke Cometti, the Orange return Henry Schoonmaker and Scott Loy, and add Jordan Evans an A/M, the #1 recruit in the nation for 2014, who has taken the aforementioned #22 for Syracuse from Jo Jo Marasco.
With all of those offensive weapons, there are definitely some players in particular to watch out for and it's likely Kevin Rice and Randy Staats. Those two have been the most effective attackmen so far for the Orange and both are very good at both creating and scoring with Rice doing more of the creating and Staats the scoring. They're the two to watch out for this weekend as the main guys the Maryland defense will look to shut down.
For Maryland, the keys come at the face-off "X" and controlling the tempo of the game. Syracuse's struggles with face-offs have been well documented by the lacrosse media at large and especially Syracuse fans. The Orange just haven't been very good at them. So Maryland face-off man Charlie Raffa will be the key. If he can win a solid amount of face-offs, it allows Maryland to dictate the game at a slower pace and play their game and work their way into a rhythm offensively as Tillman said they did later in the UMBC game. Syracuse likes to run and make it up tempo and score a lot. Maryland wants to have more possessions and play their game and let Matt Rambo and Mike Chanenchuk get into a groove and try to get a lead and let their defense do their thing.
Another key factor in the game is how the "Baby Terps" deal with the environment. They're still a very young team, playing their first road game in an environment very unique in the Carrier Dome. It'll be loud and it's a tough place to play. There could be some nerves. That's why it's important for Maryland to get some goals and the lead early and not have to play catch-up and play from behind.
Maryland will likely once again use a heavy rotation. Matt Rambo and Mike Chanenchuk have been the main contributors along with Jay Carlson. But also expect to see Connor Cannizzaro quite a bit as well, and Joe LoCascio who's taken on a bigger role as a middie. Henry West, Kevin Forster, and Rustin Bryant all could see time as well in the midfield and attack positions. Goran Murray will be the main anchor for Maryland on defense, with a few different partners alongside him once again, and Niko Amato will start in the cage.
It's a big game for the Terps, their biggest test of the year so far, and it's a sure bet to be a fantastic game and is the Game of the Week in College Lacrosse. Face-off is at 1 PM, there's no TV coverage unfortunately, so you would have to cough up some money to watch on cuse.com's stream. If not, the site will have coverage through social media and you can track it there as the #5 Terps take on the #2 Orange.
UPDATE: Maryland Lacrosse's Twitter feed has tweeted out that the game has been listed by ESPN3 and will be available for watching. No link is available yet.