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A season to savor. Terps roar into Final Four

Too young? Don't tell it to these Terps. Picked last in the ACC? "We can't hear you!" The Maryland men's lacrosse team exceeded expectations in what many assumed was a rebuilding year. Because I'm happy, here's a look at what they accomplished.

Rob Carr

The 2014 preseason coaches lacrosse poll anticipated perhaps the greatest concentration of power in a single conference of any sport in NCAA history. With the addition of Notre Dame and Syracuse the ACC had expanded to to six teams. Virginia, slotted seventh nationally, was the lowest ranked of the six conference squads. Inside Lacrosse placed Virginia ninth in their preseason poll. The always knowledgeable and unbiased ACC writers picked the Terps to finish sixth in the six team conference.

Like thunder shaking the ground, the Terps roared out of the gate to open the season. After picking up the expected lopsided wins against in state rivals Mount St. Mary's and UMBC, Maryland traveled to Syracuse to face the then top rated Orange. Charlie Raffa absolutely dominated at the faceoff dot winning 19 of 27 and by game's end Syracuse and their fans were out of juice as the Terrapins crushed the Orange by a 16-8 final.

Life got no easier the next week as they returned to the friendly confines of Byrd Stadium to take on the defending and eventual repeat National Champions - the Duke Blue Devils. A five goal explosion by Mike Chanenchuk and seventeen saves by Niko Amato led to a 10-6 Maryland win over their ACC foe. The two wins vaulted Maryland to the top spot in the coaches' poll.

They got knocked down

Carrying that number one ranking and a perfect 7-0 record, the Terps traveled to Chapel Hill to face the North Carolina Tar Heels. Having lost their first two ACC contests, UNC was a bit of a desperate team. Though Raffa again dominated the faceoffs, Maryland couldn't overcome a hot Carolina goalie and sixteen turnovers coming up on the short end of an 11-8 score. Perhaps a reflection of the youth in Maryland's attack, turnovers would continue to plague the Terps as the season progressed.

But they got up

Brushing off the dust from the loss at North Carolina, Maryland returned home to face the Virginia Cavaliers. The Terps prevailed in a defensive struggle pulling out a 9-6 decision in a remarkable defensive performance that held the Cavaliers to a single goal in the second half. Virginia's lone goal came with 1:55 to play in the third quarter and was bracketed by scoreless strings of fifteen minutes and forty seconds and sixteen minutes and fifty-five seconds.

Maryland followed that up with a rout of Robert Morris. After being held to just seventeen goals in two games, the Terps exploded for 19 goals against the overmatched Colonials in their highest scoring output of the season. However, the Northeast Conference foe did little to prepare the young Terps for

the ambush at Homewood

In the 111th game in lacrosse's greatest rivalry, in front nearly 10,000 fans, and again playing a team in desperate need of a win, the Terps offense stagnated. In another troubling omen, they found the net only six times on thirty one shots. And, as they had at North Carolina, turnovers plagued Maryland as the Terps gave the ball back to the Blue Jays seventeen times including three times on failed clears.

The Terps showed the eye of the tiger and got back up to score an important road win at Notre Dame. Raffa again set the tone winning an astonishing 20 of 24 faceoffs. With that level of ball control and the defense digging in its heels by holding the Fighting Irish to just 21 shots, the Terps came away with a 12-8 win and, by virtue of their earlier victory over Duke, the ACC regular season title. Not bad for a squad picked to finish last in the league.

Less than a week later, the Terps and the Irish squared off again in the semi-final of the ACC Tournament. Sixteen turnovers and only five goals on thirty shots later, Maryland left Chester not only unable to add an ACC Tournament Championship in their final year in the conference but without reaching the final.

Dancing through the fire

Following a season ending win against Navy, the Terrapins entered the NCAA Tournament as the sixth seventh (thanks to Exreehippsters) seed and would face the Cornell Big Red - a team that had knocked Maryland out of the NCAA Tournament in 2013 under similar circumstances. The first half of that game gave every appearance of becoming a repeat of the prior year. If Niko Amato's seven saves kept the Terps within shouting distance in the first half, Charlie Raffa winning eight of ten faceoffs provided the thunder in the second half.

Maryland led in the game for precisely two seconds. After Mike Chanenchuk came up with a critical ground ball with 11 seconds to play, he scored the game winner with those two seconds remaining on an assist from Henry West. The Terps moved on to easily handle Bryant 16-8 before once again coming up short against Notre Dame losing 11-6 in the national semifinal.

Like the baseball team, the men's lacrosse squad earned their stripes and exceeded expectations. Picked to finish last in the ACC, they won the regular season title and made a third trip to the Final Four in John Tillman's four years at the helm.

Some individual standouts

The US Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association tabbed five Terps as All-Americans. Goalie Niko Amato, midfielder Mike Chanenchuk, long stick midfielder Michael Ehrhardt, and defender Goran Murray were named to the first team. Junior faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa had a slot on the second team.

As they move into the B1G in 2015, the young guns on attack - Cannizzaro, Heacock, Rambo, Rotanz, and others should keep Maryland a force to be reckoned with in NCAA lacrosse.