By Max Schaeffer
Head coach John Tillman and No. 4 Maryland men’s lacrosse should be happy to have escaped its first game of the 2024 season without a loss.
On the road against Richmond, midfielder Owen Murphy buried a step-down strike two minutes into the second overtime period, allowing the Terps to breathe a sigh of relief.
Murphy’s goal gave Maryland its 31st straight win in a season opener, but last season, trouble began for the team in the second week of the season. Facing the same opponent they will this Saturday, the Loyola (Md.) Greyhounds, the top-ranked Terps were upset, 12-7.
Maryland will try to avoid a repeat of that let-down when they host the Greyhounds at noon on Saturday. The game will stream on Big Ten Plus.
Loyola Greyhounds (1-0, 0-0 Patriot League)
Head coach Charley Toomey’s Greyhounds are a more dangerous unit than the one that upset the Terps a year ago. They opened their season with an upset of No. 11 Georgetown in convincing fashion, 18-10, at home in Baltimore.
After a hot start last season, the Greyhounds faltered in Patriot League play, going 4-4 within their conference and losing in the conference championship game to Army, which upset Maryland in the NCAA Tournament.
Players to watch
Evan James, graduate attackman, No. 8 — Coming off a season for which he earned an All-American honorable mention from Inside Lacrosse, James wasted no time getting going this year. James put up a monster stat line in the Greyhounds’ opening contest against Georgetown, tallying five goals and four assists. He will likely draw plenty of matchups with Maryland’s top defenseman, Ajax Zappitello.
Adam Poitras, graduate attackman, No. 51 — Poitras and James form a dangerous duo for opposing defenses. They combined for 90 points last season, and already have 14 on the young season, with Poitras scoring four goals and adding an assist in the season opener. Poitras was taken with the second overall pick of the 2023 National Lacrosse League (NLL) draft.
Mustang Sally, graduate short-stick defensive midfielder, No. 23 — The man with one of the best names in college lacrosse is a do-it-all midfielder for the Greyhounds. Sally can play both ways and showed it against Georgetown, contributing a goal, assist, forced turnover three ground balls.
Offense. In addition to Poitras and James, the Greyhounds have sophomore Matthew Minicus to fill out their attack and form one of the most dangerous units in the country. Minicus is coming off a freshman season in which he was tied for the team lead in points (49). In the midfield, Matt Heuston and Seth Higgins present additional threats.
“I feel like those guys have been there forever, and that’s the biggest compliment you can pay anybody,” Tillman said of Loyola’s attack unit. “They’re very unselfish, very skilled and they’re very methodical. They’re content just moving and sharing the ball. You have to be ready for long possessions.”
Maryland will need more than just Zappitello to step up defensively. Close defensemen Jackson Canfield and Colin Burlace will need to have strong performances, too.
Faceoffs. Graduate faceoff specialist Eric Pacheco won a respectable 50% of his draws last weekend against Georgetown, and has won 43.1% throughout his career with the Greyhounds. However, the last time Pacheco matched up with Maryland’s Luke Wierman, it was an entirely one-sided affair. Wierman won 18 of the contest’s 22 faceoffs, but Maryland scored only seven goals.
“We had a decided advantage there last year and we did not capitalize on that,” Tillman said. “What we tried to do last year did not work and after that we made some personnel changes. We changed up the attack and slid Braden Erksa down there.”
Three things to watch
1. The Terps need a dodger. Since Maryland won the 2022 national title and lost four offensive starters, there hasn’t been a primary dodger on the roster. While having success with ball movement, the Terps have lacked a presence that can constantly draw double-teams.
In their season opener, only three of the Terps’ goals came from a dodge. Unless a player like Erksa steps up, Maryland will have to hope its ball movement and picks are good enough that its lack of dodging doesn’t matter.
2. Goalie play. Maryland’s offense struggled to solve Greyhounds goalie Luke Staudt last year. He denied Maryland on 19 of its 26 shots on target.
For Maryland, goalie Logan McNaney was injured in the matchup and missed the remainder of the season.
3. Home sweet home? Last year, SECU Stadium did not provide the home-field advantage the Terps hoped it would; they went 4-4 at home and 6-1 on the road. Most notably, Maryland’s last home game was in the first round of the NCAA Tournament — its heartbreaking defeat to Army. The Terps will hope to get the ball rolling on a better home campaign against the Greyhounds.