No. 9 Maryland men’s lacrosse hits the road again to take on No. 3 Princeton on Saturday.
“In talking to some of the Princeton guys, it’s clear that they’ve had this game circled on their calendar for over a year now,” junior defenseman Ajax Zappitello said. “I think the whole team’s excited to kind of prove our worth on the road, and I don’t think there’s any better way to do it than with a big time matchup versus Princeton.”
The Terps got back into the win column last Saturday, defeating then-No. 18 Syracuse, 15-12.
This top-20 matchup was defined by scoring streaks, and Maryland opened up the game with a 3-0 run. The Orange evened the score at three in the second quarter, but it was Maryland who led, 9-5, heading into halftime.
The Terps outshot Syracuse by 20 in the first half, but their turnovers and dropped passes kept the Orange within striking distance.
Maryland’s lead shrunk to two in the fourth quarter, however, another 3-0 run – capped off by an incredible goal from sophomore midfielder Dante Trader Jr. – put the Orange to rest.
“I thought we had more energy last week. I thought we had a better, focused week of practice,” head coach John Tillman said. “So, we’re just trying to build on that.”
This week, the Terps will take on their toughest opponent yet in Princeton. The game will start at 1 p.m. and be streamed on ESPN Plus.
Princeton Tigers (2-0)
2022 record: 11-5 (3-3 Ivy League)
Head coach Matt Madalon is in his seventh season at the helm of Princeton’s lacrosse program after taking over as interim head coach in 2016. Madalon has transformed the Tigers into perennial contenders for the national title, leading Princeton to the NCAA Semifinals last year. Maryland and Princeton met twice in 2022, with the Terps winning both matchups by five goals. The Tigers have looked like the better team this season, though, beating both of their opponents by a combined 18 goals.
Players to watch
Alex Slusher, senior attackman, No. 5 – Slusher has been a staple in Princeton’s attack since joining the team in 2020. He tallied the ninth most goals in a single season (44) last year, while tacking on 10 assists and six caused turnovers. Slusher has only scored three goals this season but is still an offensive weapon waiting to explode.
Alexander Vardaro, senior midfielder, No. 19 – Similar to Slusher, Vardaro has been a consistent starter since his freshman season. He scored 26 goals in 2022 and is on pace to surpass that count with ease this year. Vardaro recorded nine goals and two assists in the first two games, only missing two of his 11 shots.
Griffen Rakower, senior goalie, No. 0 – Rakower received the first start of his career this season and has not disappointed. Through 60 minutes of action, he totaled 14 saves and a .636 save percentage, while allowing eight goals. Rakower has split time with junior Michael Gianforcaro – who has a .526 save percentage – so they will both likely get significant playing time against the Terps.
Offense. Similar to last year, Princeton’s offense is extremely dangerous. The Tigers currently rank sixth in the country for goals per game (18.00), seventh for assists per game (11.00) and second for scoring margin (9.00). The Terps’ defense has been solid this year, but will have their work cut out for them on Saturday.
None. There is a reason why the Tigers are ranked No. 3 in the nation; they simply do not have many holes in their roster. Six of Princeton’s top seven goal scorers from 2022 are back, along with three of its top four defenders. With so much roster turnover, it will be interesting to see if Maryland can repeat last year’s success against the Tigers.
“We’re also now really focused on the things that Princeton does that can be problematic, and there are a lot of them,” Tillman said.
Three things to watch
1. The Terps need to clean up the mistakes. Maryland was out of sync during the last two games, leading to incredibly sloppy play. The Terps dropped multiple passes, committed 40 turnovers and missed 70 shots during that span. They were able to sneak past Syracuse last Saturday, but the Terps will need to limit the amount of offensive opportunities Princeton receives if they want to pull off the upset.
2. How will Teddy Dolan perform? With senior goalie Logan McNaney sidelined for the foreseeable future, junior Teddy Dolan is slated to start. In his first start as a Terp, Dolan did not play particularly well, saving nine shots and allowing 12 goals. With a potent offense on deck, Dolan will have to find his rhythm in a hostile environment.
“For Teddy, there were some positioning things, I think some reaction things,” Tillman said. “Again, a tough spot to be put into, you know, even with a guy with experience.”
3. Who will Brett Makar defend? The play of graduate defenseman Brett Makar is one of the few consistencies for Maryland. He held Syracuse freshman attackman Joey Spallina — who came into the day averaging 3.66 goals per game — to just one goal on five shots. Makar can shut down the opposing team’s best offensive player, but with so much talent on Princeton’s roster, there is not a clear choice to whom Makar will be glued to.