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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Penn State preview

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Maryland’s next two games will come on the road with the first one against Penn State this Sunday.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Last Saturday, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse improved to 7-0 with an impressive 23-12 pummeling of No. 2 Virginia.

Graduate attacker Keegan Khan led the Terps with 7 points on four goals and three assists, and fifth-year midfielder Anthony DeMaio, fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas and sophomore attacker Owen Murphy also had four or more points. Fourteen different Terps recorded points against the Cavaliers.

“[For] anybody that was on last year’s team, there was a sense of focus and purpose,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said of his team’s performance against Virginia.

Following Saturday’s game, Maryland became the unanimous No. 1 team in the nation and added to the already sky-high expectations they have had since the season started.

Now, the Terps are set to start conference play with a trip to Panzer Stadium and a matchup against Penn State in their first night game of 2022. Maryland is 38-1 all-time against the Nittany Lions and 7-1 since the teams both joined the Big Ten. Penn State’s sole win came in 2019. Last year, Maryland and Penn State played twice and the Terps won the games 13-7 and 17-10, respectively.

Sunday’s game will start at 7 p.m. and will be aired live on Big Ten Network.

Penn State Nittany Lions (2-6, 0-0 Big Ten)

2021 record: (4-7, 4-6 Big Ten)

Jeff Tambroni is in his 12th season as head coach at Penn State after a successful 10-season tenure at Cornell. In his career, Tambroni is seventh all-time in career winning percentage among active Division I head coaches. In addition to his eight NCAA Tournament appearances and three Final Fours at Cornell, Tambroni’s Penn State teams have made the NCAA Tournament three times, including his most decorated team in 2019, which won the Big Ten and advanced to the Final Four. Before the season was canceled, Penn State’s 2020 squad was at one point ranked No. 1 in the nation. Last year, the Nittany Lions went 4-7.

Penn State enters Sunday’s game with a 2-6 record, but four of those losses have come by one goal. Three of the opponents in those losses, Villanova, No. 6 Penn and No. 4 Cornell, scored game-winners within the final two minutes of the game, including a goal by Penn’s James Shipley with just one second remaining. Even with its record, Penn State is still ranked 35th by Lacrosse Reference’s ELO rankings, a data metric used to rank the strength of teams. Their home win against then-No. 5 Yale shows that they are dangerous enough to provide any team a difficult challenge at Panzer Stadium.

Players to watch

Will Peden, freshman attacker, No. 29 — With the absence of senior attacker Jack Traynor, Peden is Penn State’s leading scorer that is active. Peden has had a fantastic freshman season, dishing out 14 assists and adding six goals through his first eight games in State College. He had a season-high four assists against Saint Joseph’s and two goals against Villanova. However, Peden has only two assists and one goal over the last three games and will need to have a big performance this Sunday if Penn State wants to have offensive success.

Jeb Brenfleck, redshirt freshman attacker, No. 8 — Brenfleck has started all but two of the Nittany Lions’ eight games this season. His production has been boom-or-bust so far, as he has just as many three or more point games as he has games with one point. He currently sits third on the team with 13 goals. Brenfleck, along with Peden, is a part of Penn State’s talented core of young players that will play a key role in their program’s development over the next few seasons.

Aleric Fyock, redshirt junior goalie, No. 18 — With only one defenseman that has started every game this season, Fyock has had to step up and handle much of the defensive responsibility for Penn State. Despite allowing 13.55 goals per game and sporting a relatively average .518 save percentage, he has shown his importance to the team with a 21-save, five-goals allowed performance in Penn State’s best win over Yale. If he’s on his game, Penn State is hard to beat.

Strength

Young talent. Penn State has plenty of key pieces that have experience within the program, but some of their most talented players are underclassmen. Both Brenfleck and Peden have been solid pieces for the Nittany Lions, and midfielder Ethan Long along with attacker Nils Barry have won Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors this season. Young players can sometimes be less consistent, but they can also be pesky to opponents. With extra motivation coming from a game against the No. 1 team in the nation, Penn State’s youngsters could be dangerous.

Weakness

Depth on defense. The Nittany Lions have had a rotating door of defensive players in 2022. With senior defensemen Brayden Peck and Brett Funk being unable to play as of late, freshman Kevin Parnham is the only defenseman that has started all eight games this season. Junior Jack Posey and freshman Pup Buono have seen action in Penn State’s recent games, but the Nittany Lions are still hampered on the defensive end. They are giving up almost 13 goals per game, but with their struggles to keep key players on the field they are going to have a difficult time stopping some of the Big Ten’s best offenses like Maryland.

“We’re preparing for all [their] guys [to be] back,” Tillman said of preparing his team for whoever the Nittany Lions put on the field on Sunday.

Three things to watch

1. Conference play begins. With the nonconference portion of the schedule over, Maryland now has to reset and begin its play against Big Ten teams in pursuit of a conference title. The Terps have won five Big Ten regular season championships since the conference began playing men’s lacrosse in 2015. In fact, the only school other than Maryland that has a Big Ten men’s lacrosse title is Penn State, which won in 2019. The Big Ten looks to be one of the toughest conferences in the country this year, so Maryland is going to have to play its best in its final five games of the regular season.

“Having won the league last year… [we’ve] got a bullseye on [us],” Tillman said. “Winning the league is important. Trying to go 1-0 in the league this week is really the biggest goal.”

2. Goals, goals and more goals. The Terps have scored 18.29 goals per game this season, the best of any team in Division I. Fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas and graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville have led the team’s scoring with a combined 5.85 goals per game. With the nation’s third-best strength of schedule according to RPI and four 20-goal performances through seven games this season, Maryland’s offense has proven that it is more than capable of continuing to produce flashy numbers against Big Ten competition.

“We play positionless lacrosse,” senior midfielder Kyle Long said. “Guys just play anywhere so it doesn’t really matter what position you are. We just play six offensive players. Whatever the letter is next to [a player’s] name when they put the lineup out there, it is what it is.”

3. Maryland needs to do its best to not lose focus. After a dominant performance in a highly emotional game against Virginia a week ago, the Terps can’t afford to let their foot off the gas. Maryland faces what many would look at as a potential letdown game going into a Sunday night game against a Big Ten opponent, and it’s going to take a lot of mental strength to block out the noise of everyone’s praise.

“I sent [the team] the Nick Saban video on the rat poison,” Tillman said of his attempts to get his team to ignore the hype. “We can’t let March 19 define our season. There’s a lot more we need to improve upon.”