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Maryland men’s lacrosse’s 2022 season was one for the ages

The Terps cemented their legacy by going 18-0 and winning the national championship.

Photo courtesy of Taylor McLaughlin/Maryland Athletics.

Following the 2021 season, questions lingered about what the 2022 iteration of Maryland men’s lacrosse would look like. The team that had just finished one goal shy of running the table said goodbye to stars in All-American defenseman Nick Grill and Tewaaraton Award winner and all-time Maryland great Jared Bernhardt.

As a collective, the Terps agreed that second place wasn’t good enough. The seniors were determined to avenge their national championship loss and run it back for one last journey together. Eight players used their extra year of eligibility — given to college athletes because of the 2020 season’s cancellation due to COVID-19 — in pursuit of nothing short of a national title.

With a large swath of players returning, Maryland head coach John Tillman saw an opportunity to bolster his already-talented roster by taking advantage of the many transfers available in the offseason.

Villanova standouts Keegan Khan and Owen Prybylski both chose to finish their collegiate careers in College Park, and attackman Owen Murphy made the short trip down I-95, transferring from Johns Hopkins. Additionally, midfielder Jonathan Donville came to Maryland from Cornell, a decision that Tillman claims Donville made for academic reasons.

Khan and Donville were All-Big Ten selections, while Murphy and Prybylski both played important roles down the stretch. Murphy finished third on the team in goals and Prybylski was a dependable long-stick midfielder, also playing some close defense and even scoring his first and only goal in the national championship game.

“They’re just awesome guys and they’re so humble,” Tillman said. “It’s hard to get guys to blend in so quickly and those guys made it look seamless... I’m excited to maintain those relationships with them for a long, long time.”

In addition to surefire players that already had a track record of success, the Terps also benefited from the emergence of some players previously in smaller roles into stars. With Grill’s departure, Tillman chose to trust sophomore Ajax Zappitello as his third close defenseman beside senior Brett Makar and graduate Matt Rahill. Zappitello quickly blossomed into one of the best players at his position in the country, earning Third Team All-American and NCAA All-Tournament Team honors.

Also, junior Luke Wierman stepped into a new role as Maryland’s top faceoff option and put together nothing short of the best season a Terp has ever had at the faceoff “X.” Wierman won a school-record 298 faceoffs with a .661 faceoff winning percentage, the second-best in the entire nation. Opponents quickly began to realize that when Wierman got rolling, Maryland was simply unbeatable.

“Wierman is the best faceoff guy I’ve ever seen out of Maryland,” Vermont head coach and former Terp Chris Feifs said after his team lost to Maryland in the first round of the NCAA tournament. “He’s an athlete, not just a faceoff guy. He can score, he can play defense, he can scrap for loose balls, he really sets the bar for that position.”

NCAA LACROSSE: MAY 30 Men’s Lacrosse Championships - Cornell v Maryland Photo by M. Anthony Nesmith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

After Bernhardt’s graduation, the coveted No. 1 jersey that has traditionally been given to Maryland’s best offensive player belonged to fifth-year attacker Logan Wisnauskas, who showed his worthiness of the honor, and then some. Wisnauskas had 103 points in 2022 (61 goals, 42 assists), the most ever by a Terp. He also broke Bernhardt’s career points and goals records, putting him squarely in the conversation as the best player to ever don a Maryland uniform. He is the odds-on favorite to win the Tewaaraton Award.

“I think [with] the No. 1 [jersey], there’s so much more than just the points. It’s the person that wears No. 1,” Tillman said. “I want [Logan] to know how much he’s meant to us, how much he means to me and how much I enjoy just being around [him].”

The key to the Terps’ success was their selflessness and collective trust. They set an NCAA record with 204 assists in a single season with 64% of all goals scored coming from an assist. Bubba Fairman encapsulates that notion of altruism to the fullest. After four seasons as one of Maryland’s top offensive threats, he volunteered to transition into a new role as a short-stick defensive midfielder, a position that is less flashy but could help the team. Fairman thrived in his new role, developing into an All-American-caliber player.

“To me, one of the biggest things is just being unselfish and doing whatever the team needs to win,” Fairman said. “We had some guys get a little banged up and so I had to step up to a different role. But, you know, there’s so many guys on our team that have done that besides me.”

Players like Fairman, Wisnauskas, Makar and others were all incredibly important to keeping this team grounded. The pressure of being undefeated continued to grow as the season went on, and having experienced and goal-oriented leaders made sure that it didn’t get to the team and affect their performance.

Those expectations that they faced were well-warranted. The Terps dominated opponents at a historic clip, winning only two games by fewer than four goals. Maryland’s opponent-adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ranked first in the country, per Lacrosse Reference, and it also had the nation’s best faceoff win rate and save percentage. Essentially, Maryland was the best team at every aspect of lacrosse this season.

Regardless of that, the Terps and their 12 All-Americans faced a difficult path to winning a national championship. They fought through two-time reigning champion Virginia, a four-hour delay in the semifinals against Princeton and a grueling, season culminating win over seventh-seeded Cornell in the title game.

Winning a national championship, especially considering what had transpired a year prior, meant the world to this team. When the game ended and Maryland’s team rushed over to celebrate with goalie Logan McNaney — the NCAA tournament’s Most Outstanding Player — Makar collapsed to the ground with his face in his hands, crying tears of joy. Makar was the vocal leader of the team throughout much of the season. After being consoled by his joyous teammates, Makar climbed into the stands and found his father, sharing a hug with the man that helped him along the way.

“There’s no words,” Makar said after the game, fighting back tears and looking for a way to describe his emotions. “Such an amazing group of people. We said before the game: [there’s] your wedding day, the day you have your first kid and the day you won the national championship… I thank the good Lord for making me a Maryland Terrapin.”

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.

Moments like that are indicative of what made this team truly special. Sure, this team was unbelievably talented and had great coaching. But what set them apart was the brotherhood that bonded each and every player, coach, staff and family member with each other. They frequently put themselves and their bodies on the line for one another, most recently illustrated by graduate midfielder Roman Puglise essentially playing the national championship game one-handed, fighting through a hand injury that required him to wear a cast on his right wrist.

Now that the season has come to a storybook end and Maryland completed one of the most impressive seasons in the history of college lacrosse, questions have been raised about where this team ranks among the best of all-time. Some have pointed to Syracuse’s 1990 team or Virginia in 2006 — the last undefeated champion before 2022 — while others would claim that this Maryland team was the best to ever take to the lacrosse field. Those conversations are intriguing, but the reality is that nobody can ever say for sure who the best is.

The debates will continue, but midfielder Anthony DeMaio noted that nothing other than the opportunity to hoist the championship trophy matters at the end of the day. “Other people want to say we’re the best team ever,” he said. “We’re national champions, and that’s all that matters.”