No. 2 Maryland men’s lacrosse returns to College Park this Saturday to take on No. 10 Penn State, its first Big Ten opponent of the season.
The Terps are on a two-game winning streak, each of which came on the road. Maryland easily fended off Albany, but its top-five matchup against Virginia delivered an overtime thriller.
Maryland took an early 3-0 lead, converting on each of its first three shot attempts, but trailed 6-4 at halftime.
The Terps’ offense picked up in the third quarter, though, scoring six goals to take a one-goal lead heading into the fourth.
Junior midfielder Jack Koras scored his fourth goal of the day with 2:40 remaining, giving Maryland a two-goal advantage. With time winding down, Virginia scored two goals in 38 seconds, sending an already exciting game to overtime.
In the final period, the Terps got it done on both ends. Freshman goalie Brian Ruppel made three incredible saves in the span of seven seconds, and then junior attackman Daniel Kelly ended the game with 2:19 on the clock, sneaking the ball past sophomore goalie Matthew Nunes.
“Tried to make a save as best as possible,” Ruppel said. “Luckily, I was able to get there, get a piece of it and then … get the ball to our offense.”
Saturday’s win was an instant classic, but now the Terps will need to shift their focus to Penn State. The game will begin at 5 p.m. on Saturday and will air on Big Ten Network.
Penn State Nittany Lions (5-2, 0-0 Big Ten)
2022 record: 3-11 (1-4 Big Ten)
Head coach Jeff Tambroni is one of the most successful coaches in college lacrosse, entering the 2023 season seventh among active Division 1 coaches in career wins (205). Prior to Penn State, Tambroni spent 10 seasons at Cornell, where he led the Big Red to eight NCAA Tournament appearances, including the 2009 national championship game. Penn State has made the NCAA Tournament three times under Tambroni, the most recent coming in 2019.
Tambroni and the Nittany Lions had their second consecutive losing season in 2022, though, finishing eight games below .500. They also lost to Maryland last year, 18-7, their worst loss of the season.
Players to watch
TJ Malon, graduate attackman, No. 7 – Penn State looks like a completely different team from last year, in large part due to the return of its top attackman. Malon led the Nittany Lions in points in 2021 (43), but missed all of last year due to injury. This season, Malon has picked up right where he left off, currently leading the team in points (31) with 17 goals and 14 assists.
Jack Fracyon, sophomore goalie, No. 50 – Fracyon played in spurts last season, but has completely taken over the starting goalie spot this year. In seven starts, he has recorded a 10.5 goals against average, 90 saves and a 0.556 save percentage, which ranks 11th in the nation. Fracyon is coming off one of his worst performances of the year, however, tallying a 0.478 save percentage in a 12-11 loss to Marquette.
Matt Traynor, sophomore midfielder, No. 22 – After playing in just two games last year, Traynor is now the Nittany Lions’ leading scorer. He has only started in one of his seven appearances, but makes the most of his playing time, recording 18 goals, five assists and a 0.429 shooting percentage, which ranks 28th in the nation.
Offense. The return of Malon and emergence of Traynor has made Penn State very difficult to defend. The Nittany Lions have four players with double-digit goals and rank 13th nationally in goals per game (14.14). Penn State has yet to score under 10 goals this season, and it will be interesting to see if Maryland’s stout defense — which ranks 10th nationally in goals allowed per game (9.71) — can stump the Nittany Lions.
Faceoffs. While Penn State has a faceoff winning percentage over 50%, this is where Maryland dominates. The Nittany Lions use two faceoff specialists, redshirt sophomore Hudson Bohn and redshirt freshman Chase Mullins, each of which may have difficulty with Maryland senior Luke Wierman’s 6-foot-1, 211-pound frame. Wierman has struggled during the last two games, winning 28 of 59 faceoffs, but should have an easier time against the Nittany Lions.
Three things to watch
1. Koras is hot. Koras was solid to begin the season, recording six goals and four assists through five games, but has found a rhythm as of late. Over the last two games, the midfielder has been Maryland’s most consistent offensive player, tallying seven goals and one assist. If Koras can become a consistent scoring option, Maryland’s offense will be extremely dynamic.
2. Can the Terps maintain focus? Maryland is riding high. It just beat the No. 1 ranked team in the nation on the road, in overtime, and is now the No. 2 ranked team in Inside Lacrosse’s media poll. Maryland’s spring break also disrupted the team’s usual practice schedule, potentially causing the Terps to lose some focus and intensity during the week. We know Maryland is talented enough to take care of business on Saturday, but will it be mentally prepared?
“We’re trying to find that sweet spot between, you know, obviously having some confidence, but not being overconfident,” head coach John Tillman said. “[Penn State has] beaten three top-10 teams, so we’ve got to be dialed in and ready.”
3. How will Maryland fare in the Big Ten? With the seven-game nonconference slate over, the Terps will face five Big Ten opponents to close out the regular season. Maryland will play Michigan at home next week, both No. 19 Ohio State and No. 6 Rutgers on the road, and then return to College Park for its regular season finale against No. 8 Johns Hopkins. Maryland has won the last two Big Ten regular-season titles, and the quest for its sixth total begins on Saturday.