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No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse vs. Johns Hopkins preview

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The Terps look to complete a perfect regular season.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

As was the case one year ago, No. 1 Maryland men’s lacrosse is a win at Johns Hopkins away from completing a perfect regular season.

The Terps clinched the Big Ten regular-season championship and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament last Saturday, defeating No. 9 Ohio State 19-12. The Buckeyes pushed the Terps for three quarters, but they ended the game on a 10-2 run and pulled away late. Fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas led all scorers with seven points on five goals and two assists, giving him 299 career points. Graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville and sophomore attacker Eric Malever also had four-point performances. Ten Terps scored goals, six of whom had multiple.

“I think we learned [that] it’s important to play the the full 60 minutes and never give an inch to the other team, and how important it is for us to keep going and continually have confidence in ourselves and what we’re doing,” junior midfielder Jack Brennan said of his team’s performance against the Buckeyes.

Now, Maryland turns its attention to long-time rival Johns Hopkins for its regular season finale. The Terps and Blue Jays have played 115 times according to Maryland, but Johns Hopkins includes the seven games played from 1895-1924 before Maryland’s team was varsity, counting 122 all-time matchups. Since 1924, Johns Hopkins leads the all-time series 67-47-1 but is 0-3 since Peter Milliman took over as head coach for the 2021 season.

“It is an important game. It’s also something pretty special,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “I want them to enjoy the moment, I want them to enjoy every moment on this journey.”

Read more about the century-old rivalry between Maryland and Johns Hopkins here.

Saturday’s game will start at 6 p.m. and can be seen live on ESPNU.

Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (6-7, 2-2 Big Ten)

2021 Record: 4-9, 2-8 Big Ten

Peter Milliman is in his second season as head coach at Johns Hopkins after taking over for legendary player and coach Dave Pietramala. Before Hopkins, Milliman was the head coach at Cornell for three seasons. While there, he made the NCAA quarterfinals once and won the 2018 Ivy League Tournament Championship. Last season, his team wasn’t impressive in the regular season but gave Maryland a tough challenge in their matchups. They met for a third time in the Big Ten Championship game, which was the first time in Division I men’s lacrosse history that a sixth-seeded team advanced to a conference championship game.

This season, the Blue Jays have been inconsistent to say the least, never winning or losing more than two games in a row. They started the season with an 11-8 win over Jacksonville — a team now ranked in the top 10 — and followed it up with a road victory at Towson. Hopkins lost five of their next seven games, though. Entering the conference slate with a 4-5 record, the Blue Jays have won both of their games at home against Michigan and Penn State but fell at both Rutgers and Ohio State. Their record has them locked into a home game in the Big Ten Quarterfinals against Penn State. While Maryland enters the game as favorites, history as recent as last year shows that nothing can be taken for granted in The Rivalry.

Players to watch

Joey Epstein, senior attacker, No. 32 — A former Washington Post All-Met Player of the Year and No. 1 overall recruit per Inside Lacrosse, Epstein burst onto the scene as a freshman, putting together an All-American season with a 48-goal, 25-assist campaign that also earned him First Team All-Big Ten honors in 2019. The last two seasons, however, Epstein has been unable to capture that same magic, although he has still been Johns Hopkins’ most dangerous offensive threat. He has 19 goals and 13 assists this year and torched in-state foes Towson and Loyola for a combined 12 points in those two games. He’ll try and do the same against Maryland on Saturday.

Garrett Degnon, senior midfielder, No. 40 — The Blue Jays’ highest scorer, Degnon has been difficult for opponents to stop all season long. He has scored in all but one game this season and has six hat tricks, including a six-goal performance last week against Penn State, five of which came in the first half. He scored once last season against Maryland in the Big Ten Championship Game and was a member of the Big Ten All-Tournament Team. Twenty-one of his 33 goals this season have come in the state of Maryland.

“Degnan is a very experienced guy,” Tillman said. “You keep going down the list and they have their most experienced guys in there. There’s a lot of different things they could do.”

Beaudan Szuluk, junior defenseman, No. 44 — Szuluk has been Johns Hopkins’ best statistical defenseman in a season that they have struggled to find consistency. The Blue Jays have only had one close defenseman start all 13 games, and Szuluk has started 12-of-13. He has forced 17 turnovers and picked up 21 ground balls in 2022, although he has also taken seven penalties in 13 games. Johns Hopkins will have their most difficult defensive challenge of the season with Maryland, and if it’s going to win it will need big performances from Szuluk and the rest of the defense.

Strength

Homewood Field. One of the most iconic stadiums in all of college lacrosse, Homewood Field has been a strong advantage for the Blue Jays for over 100 years. They are 5-1 at home this season, with their only loss coming in a close 11-10 game against Navy. All but one of their five home wins have come by three goals. Hopkins has assuredly received a boost from their home crowd this season, and with their biggest rival and the No. 1 team in the country coming to Baltimore, Homewood Field should be a hostile environment for the Terps. The comfort that the Blue Jays feel at home looks to be an advantage for Saturday’s matchup.

Weakness

Clearing the ball. Johns Hopkins ranks 50th in the country in clearing percentage this season, succeeding just over 83% of the time. Maryland hasn’t been particularly aggressive when riding opponents on clears, allowing them to successfully clear over 90% of the time. But, just a few extra possessions could prove to be deadly for the Blue Jays against Maryland’s potent offense. They are going to need to be especially careful to avoid unnecessary turnovers, which could provide a huge momentum shift and allow Maryland to score. Additionally, the more pressure Johns Hopkins is able to put on Maryland’s defense, the more they can control the flow of the game and mimic the troubles Ohio State gave the Terps last week.

Three things to watch

1. Biting the hand that once fed you. Maryland offensive coordinator Bobby Benson, the strategic mind behind the top-scoring offense in all of college lacrosse, coached at Johns Hopkins as an assistant for 14 years following a playing career that earned him three All-American honors in four seasons. Additionally, sophomore attacker Owen Murphy, who has 18 goals in 11 games for the Terps this season, transferred to Maryland after playing the 2020 season for the Blue Jays. These two Maryland stars should have extra motivation to go out and put together a strong performance on Saturday.

2. World-class Wierman. The junior faceoff specialist has been a revelation all season long for Maryland, as he is nearing historical status with one of the most dominant seasons the program has ever seen at the faceoff “X.” He is just 11 faceoff wins shy of becoming the third Terp to ever win 200 faceoffs in a single season and 33 shy of the all-time record for wins in a season. He has put together three separate performances this season with at least 20 faceoff wins, and if he takes the game over again on Saturday, Maryland could continue to put up gaudy offensive numbers.

“It’s just been so awesome to see,” Tillman said of Wierman’s development. “He’s taken a step each year and [with] his awareness, now we can keep him in on clears. If there’s pressure on faceoffs, we’ll just throw it back to him. So [he] is a great asset obviously, he’s pushing the ball and scoring goals and throwing it to guys.”

3. Expect a physical, hard-fought game. A blind resume comparison would lead one to believe that Maryland will blow Johns Hopkins out and go undefeated for the second straight regular season. The reality, however, is that The Rivalry is almost never a easy win. Since John Tillman took over as Maryland’s head coach for the 2011 season, 10 of his 16 games against Johns Hopkins have been decided by three goals or less, including all but one at Homewood Field. In 2021, Johns Hopkins put undefeated Maryland to the test in both the regular season finale and Big Ten Championship. They could very well do the same this year.

“It feels eerily like last year. We go up there and it is an absolute dogfight and then we play them again in the Big Ten [tournament],” Tillman said. “We were losing in both of those games. So that’s kind of what I’m preparing for, just a heavyweight fight like that where it’s going to be tooth and nail.”