By Max Schaeffer
Maryland men’s lacrosse’s championship hangover lasted longer than it hoped.
After a flawless 2022 campaign, the Terps had one of their worst years of the last decade in 2023, finishing the regular season with a 10-4 record before losing in the Big Ten championship game. They were then stunned at home by Army in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
In 2024, Maryland will look to climb back to the towering standards it has set for itself under the tutelage of head coach John Tillman.
Maryland’s roster was relatively young in 2022, which gives it many returning players with added experience under their belts. They enter the season ranked No. 6 nationally in the Inside Lacrosse media poll, the third-highest ranking in the Big Ten behind only Johns Hopkins (No. 5) and Penn State (No. 4).
The Terps’ biggest loss was defenseman Brett Makar, who wore the legendary No. 1 jersey last year. After five seasons with the Terps, Makar was selected No. 3 overall in the 2023 Premier Lacrosse League (PLL) draft by the New York Atlas. He will go down as one of the best defenseman in Maryland history, twice being named Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year and being named to the All-Big Ten first team thrice.
The only other Terp drafted by a PLL club was midfielder Kyle Long, who was also selected by the Atlas. Long registered 148 points in his five-year career and notched a team-high 23 assists last season.
Additionally, two-way midfielder Dante Trader Jr. will be fully dedicating his time to football this year and is not on the team’s roster. Formerly ranked as the No. 9 recruit in the country by Inside Lacrosse, Trader was a physical, short-stick defensive presence who was able to chip in offensively as well.
Other major losses include starting long-stick midfielder John Geppert and Donovan Lacey, a short-stick defensive midfielder who was a significant member of the defensive rotation.
One of the biggest stories of every Maryland men’s lacrosse offseason is who will wear the prestigious No. 1 jersey. This year, it will be donned by senior defenseman Ajax Zappitello. Zappitello, a preseason All-American, earned first-team All-Big Ten honors last year.
Two-time All-Big Ten first-teamer and preseason All-American Luke Wierman returns to the faceoff “X” just 12 wins away from breaking Andy Claxton’s record for most faceoff wins in program history. He will help the Terps dominate possession once again.
Last season, the Terps suffered a major blow when starting goalie Logan McNaney suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season. However, he will return for his fifth season of college lacrosse this spring, with two full seasons of experience as the Terps’ starter between the posts. In 2022, McNaney was a stalwart, earning NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player honors.
Offensively, Eric Malever will make his return at midfield after missing all of last season with a leg injury. He was slated to play a huge role in 2023 as one of the few offensive returners from the national championship squad, but is finally back and ready to make an impact.
Also contending for a prime spot on the offensive end is Braden Erksa, who broke out as a freshman last season, leading the team in points (48). Alongside him will be Daniel Maltz, Daniel Kelly, Eric Spanos, Zach Whittier, Owen Murphy and Jack Koras, all of whom project to play important roles on offense again.
Joining Zappitello on the defensive side of the ball will be Will Schaller, Nick Redd and Colin Burlace, who project to work their ways into the Terps’ rotation again.
Tillman went to work in the transfer portal once again this offseason, bringing in three key transfers. Graduate students Nick Alviti and Jackson Canfield already have chemistry, both coming to College Park from a Vermont defensive unit that has dominated the America East over the last few seasons. Alviti is tabbed to be Geppert’s replacement, while Canfield will add depth at close defender. The duo has a combined four all-conference first-team selections.
Senior midfielder Griffin King also joins the Terps this season. He was a reliable player for Brown the past two seasons, totaling 31 goals and 14 assists in his career.
Tillman also brought in eight high school recruits. The most highly-touted, five-star faceoff specialist Sean Creter, likely won’t see much playing time behind Wierman on the depth chart. The class features three four-stars in midfielders Elijah Stobaugh and Thomas Gravino as well as attackman Hamish McPherson. Maryland rarely sees true freshman earn significant roles, though, which may be especially true considering the returners from last year’s roster.
Per usual, Maryland faces a gauntlet of a schedule. Six of its opponents are ranked in the preseason top 11, with three more in the top 20. Brown is the Terps’ only opponent that didn’t receive any votes in the media poll.
Maryland opens the season Saturday at No. 20 Richmond, who the Terps handled in their season opener last year. The Spiders, seen as favorites to win the Atlantic 10, provide a significant test to open the season. Reigning conference offensive player of the year Dalton Young will test the Terps’ defense early and often.
The Terps have two massive nonconference games scheduled as well. On March 3, they’ll travel to take on the reigning national champion, No. 1 Notre Dame, which bested them in an overtime thriller last year. Two weeks later, No. 3 Virginia comes to SECU Stadium. In last year’s clash with the Cavaliers, Maryland prevailed in overtime.
The season wraps up with five straight Big Ten contests: away at Michigan and Penn State, home against Ohio State and Rutgers and finally the storied rivalry matchup with Johns Hopkins at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
If 2023 served as a transition into a new era, Maryland hopes that it has found its way over the bridge and will return to its premier standard this season.