EAST HARTFORD, Conn. — As the game clock winded down, the Maryland men’s lacrosse sideline began to realize that its dream was about to turn into a reality. Cornell had rightfully earned the right to play on Championship Monday, but the seventh-seeded Big Red were no match for undefeated and top-seeded Maryland.
The final horn sounded and the Terps rushed the field, throwing their equipment in the air in a moment of pure jubilation. As the players dogpiled on top of junior goalie Logan McNaney, head coach John Tillman threw his hands in the air and embraced whomever stood next to him in synchronization with the large contingent of Maryland fans that had gathered behind the team’s bench.
“Be the best.” Tillman said, acknowledging the motto of the Maryland men’s lacrosse program. “That started forty years ago, all we’re trying to do is carry it on.”
For all the players, staff and their families, the hard work paid off. The Maryland Terrapins were crowned national champions.
“Growing up and seeing all the other teams do what they did and then going out there and doing it ourselves is pretty special,” McNaney said.
Maryland men’s lacrosse won its fourth NCAA title in poetic fashion, lifting the championship trophy at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut — the same turf that the Terps watched rival Virginia celebrate on after a gut-wrenching Memorial Day defeat one year ago.
“Last year, with COVID, was so hard,” Tillman said. “The emotional ending, all of the sudden getting that gut punch, [it] was like triple what it would normally be.”
In 2022, though, it was Maryland that summited the college lacrosse mountain, defeating Cornell, 9-7, and becoming only the third undefeated champion since the NCAA tournament expanded to 16 teams. The Terps are the first team to finish a season 18-0 or better.
Monday’s game was not only a historic game for Maryland, but for college lacrosse as a whole; it was a rematch of the inaugural NCAA championship game in 1971. Cornell, at the time, was led by legendary head coach Richie Moran, who passed away just over a month ago.
Moran called College Park home once upon a time, playing for and graduating from Maryland in 1960. Both teams honored his memory, with the Big Red taking the field in shirts that read “It’s great to be here” — Moran’s mantra — and Tillman donning a sticker reading the initials “RM” on his hat, acknowledging his former coach during his playing days at Cornell.
The first quarter of the game started slow, as both teams looked jittery — expectedly so on the biggest stage in the sport. Each offense struggled to get any opportunities in the middle of the field, but Cornell managed to find the back of the net first when sophomore attacker CJ Kirst found an opening and fired a short-side shot past McNaney, who had 10 saves in the first two quarters. Kirst had both of Cornell’s first-half goals.
Kirst’s goal seemed to awake the unusually dormant Terps, though. Sophomore attacker Eric Malever equalized with 5:47 remaining in the first quarter, before the game entered a period that fans have come to know simply as “Tony Time.”
In his final collegiate game, fifth-year midfielder Anthony DeMaio was the storyline of the first half, putting Maryland’s offense on his shoulders and scoring four goals. His first half performance gave him a total of 17 postseason goals — one more than his total during the team’s twelve regular season games.
“It’s a moment that no one can ever take back from you,” DeMaio said of playing a key role in his team’s national championship win. “That’s kind of just what makes me go every day.”
As he has done all season, fifth-year attacker and presumed Tewaaraton Award recipient Logan Wisnauskas made Maryland history with an assist on DeMaio’s first strike. In a year where the Terps have played unprecedented levels of balanced and unselfish lacrosse, Wisnauskas tallied his 100th point of the season, breaking the program’s single-season points record previously owned by Jared Bernhardt. He scored later in the half as well.
Wisnauskas leaves College Park owning Maryland’s all-time points and goals records too, registering a point in all 75 games of his college career.
Graduate long-stick midfielder Owen Prybylski, who transferred to Maryland from Villanova in the offseason, notched his first goal as a Terp in his last game, and his team led 7-2 after two quarters of play.
“They managed their offense really well,” Cornell head coach Connor Buczek said. “I though our defense played as well as they possibly could.”
The score after 30 minutes was identical to the halftime score in the 1976 national championship game between Maryland and Cornell. The Big Red emerged victorious in overtime that year.
After Wisnauskas recorded his second goal to start the third quarter, he dished out a pass to graduate midfielder Jonathan Donville, who spun his way to the cage and scored. Donville came to College Park from Cornell in pursuit of a master’s degree in journalism.
“Jon Donville, both of us are Cornell alums... we’re standing there last week at Ohio State, and we’re watching Cornell play, and he’s looking at me, he’s like ‘you know they’re gonna win and we’re gonna have to play them at some point,’” Tillman said. “He was right.”
Junior midfielder Aiden Blake finally got the Big Red back in the scoring column with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter, ending a 22 minute, 15 second scoring drought and cutting the Terps’ lead to 9-3 at the end of the penultimate period of play.
With just 15 minutes standing between it and history, Maryland came out in the fourth quarter looking discombobulated on both defense and offense. This time, it was the Terps that entered a lengthy scoring drought, and a trio of consecutive goals by the Big Red brought the Terps’ lead down to three as a plethora of failed clears allowed Cornell to stay in the game.
It was also the first time in 42 games that Maryland didn’t score at least ten goals, not besting Cornell senior goalie Chayse Ierlan for the final 26:55 of the contest.
“We made a team that doesn’t make mistakes, make mistakes,” Cornell head coach Connor Buczek said.
McNaney made a handful of big saves, though, and an apparent goal by fifth-year attacker John Piatelli was waved off due to a crease violation before he scored the game’s final goal with just 35.3 seconds remaining.
A string of strong performances by McNaney earned him the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player award, with a total of 61 saves including 17 on Monday.
“I think I go into every game with the same mentality,” McNaney said. “I try not to get too riled up [and] stay calm.”
It wasn’t easy, and Maryland fans had to sweat it out on a balmy day, but the Terps held on to punctuate one of the best seasons in college lacrosse history.
Three things to know
1. National champs! Monday marked the fourth NCAA championship in the storied history of Maryland’s men’s lacrosse program, following in the footsteps of the 1973, 1975 and 2017 squads. It was the program’s 13th national title overall, as the Terps won nine USILA championships before the NCAA began sponsoring men’s lacrosse in 1971. The title was the 47th overall national championship that the University of Maryland has won in any sport and the 23rd in the last two decades. Twenty-eight of those 47 titles were won by either the men’s or women’s lacrosse programs.
2. The greatest ever? After punctuating a perfect season with a national championship, the 2022 Maryland men’s lacrosse team has certainly thrust itself into the conversation among the best teams that college lacrosse has ever seen. In addition to becoming the first team to ever go 18-0 in a season, the Terps won most of their games with historic levels of dominance. Maryland was in control for the entirety of virtually every game, only having trailed for just over 41 minutes of the 1,100 played in 2022.
3. The seniors got the send-off they deserved. After last year’s crushing national championship loss, a handful of Maryland’s players chose to return for an additional year to pursue the prize that had narrowly evaded them. In addition, a collection of talented graduate transfers made the decision to finish their careers at Maryland. The 11 Terps whose careers came to an end on Monday — plus any fourth-year seniors who choose not to use their extra year of eligibility — will be remembered for their contributions to the program and will forever hold a special place in Terps fans’ hearts. They walked off the field for the last time in a Maryland uniform after finishing off what was one of the most remarkable seasons in school history.
“Coach Tillman and all the coaches have taught me so many lessons off the field,” DeMaio said. “I love Maryland lacrosse and that’ll never go anywhere.”