A year after both Maryland lacrosse teams took home national championships, Cathy Reese’s and John Tillman’s programs are back in the title hunt again. Postseason play starts this weekend with the Big Ten tournament, and we’re here to catch you up if you haven’t been paying attention. Here’s what a few things to know about each team, with answers provided by women’s lacrosse beat writer Sean Montiel and yours truly.
Based on the team’s expectations and what you’ve seen, how has the team performed so far this season?
Sean Montiel: It’s hard to live up to expectations after an undefeated, national championship-winning season, but Maryland has done just that thus far. Outside of a slip-up in overtime at North Carolina early in the season, the Terps have been nearly perfect. A 16-1 record and a Big Ten regular season title are nothing to scoff at, and the Terps are rolling heading into the postseason.
Justin Fitzgerald: John Tillman’s squad has certainly lived up to expectations after winning the program’s first national title in 42 years. The Terps lost important pieces all over the field from last year’s team, and have a better record than they did at this time last season. They may not look as sharp, but have found ways to win games when they don’t play their best lacrosse.
Both teams have talent all over the field. Who is one player on offense and defense on both teams to watch?
Sean: For Maryland on offense, it’s obviously Megan Whittle. The senior captain and Tewaaraton Award nominee leads the team with 65 goals and 77 points. She’s already broken Jen Adams’ record for career goals, and Whittle will continue to pad that lead in the postseason.
Defensively, it’s been sophomore Lizzie Colson to answer the call and lead the defense. In a year where Megan Taylor’s play hasn’t always been at her usual level, Colson’s significance to the defense cannot be overstated. The four-time Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week leads the Terrapins in ground balls and caused turnovers with 33 and 20, respectively, and is also second with 62 draw controls.
Justin: On offense, it starts with Connor Kelly. He’s thrived in the quarterback role that Matt Rambo had last year, and has 36 goals and 30 assists. He can get his shot off from anywhere on the field, and has incredible vision that allows him to make spectacular passes. Defensively, goalie Dan Morris has been solid all year. I don’t think he’s had a bad game. He never gets too high or too low, and makes some impressive saves.
Both teams have stars that take a lot of the highlights? Who is a player (or two) whose contributions go unnoticed and could be critical to making a deep postseason run?
Sean: Caroline Steele and Jen Giles have been helping the Terps for a while now, making Kali Hartshorn the de facto X-factor. Her start to the season definitely left a lot to be desired, but once the switch was flipped she’s been an invaluable member of this team. Hartshorn is fourth on the team with 32 points, but her most important contributions come in the center circle. Her 103 draw controls lead the team, and that’s a huge part of how this team has been able to dominate time of possession and offensively as a whole.
Justin: Maryland has some solid offensive threats to complement Kelly in Jared Bernhardt, Logan Wisnauskas, Tim Rotanz and Bubba Fairman, but I’m going to focus on the other side of the ball and go with junior defender Curtis Corley. While Bryce Young has been solid since returning from an early season injury, Corley has become a star and possibly the better defender. He has neutralized countless attackmen and midfielders this year, and as the strongest player on the team, can have success against almost any matchup.
Men’s and women’s lacrosse are both more wide open than usual this year. What will it take for Maryland to win the national championship? What weaknesses could prevent the Terps from keeping the title in College Park?
Sean: To win the national championship, the Terrapins have to do one thing: play Maryland lacrosse. Cathy Reese has instilled this message into her players, and her reasoning is as sound as can be. Maryland lacrosse is a bona fide dynasty, making the last five championships and winning three of them. The talent is there and the system remains in place. The path to success is to just trust in the program.
A weakness that can be exposed is the efficiency of the offense. Maryland’s 16.12 goals per game rank eighth in the country, but their shot percentage of .439 is 32nd. While it’s not a terrible ranking, that discrepancy could be enough to see Maryland go home earlier than expected.
Justin: To win the national championship, Maryland will have to find another gear and play better than it has throughout Big Ten play. The Terps have looked like the best team in the country at times and pedestrian at others. Last week’s win at Johns Hopkins was huge and there were big improvements on the defense, but the offense still needs to get back on track.
The biggest thing that can prevent the trophy from staying in College Park is faceoffs. Maryland did not win the faceoff battle in any of its Big Ten games, and Justin Shockey and Austin Henningsen have been inconsistent. Every week one of them relieves the other and performs well in the second half, only to struggle the next time out and start the cycle over again. The Terps also need some more scorers to emerge to complement their five main offensive threats.
Alright, time for some predictions. Will the Terps win the Big Ten Tournament and will we see them playing for hardware on Memorial Day Weekend?
SM: There is no doubt that Maryland wins the Big Ten Tournament. The only question is whether it will be close. This team’s talent is unparalleled across the country, and the only reason it doesn’t carry a No. 1 ranking nationally is because Stony Brook is undefeated. No team, especially in the conference, can hold a candle to the Terps.
As for the NCAA Tournament, a Final Four is not only expected, but missing it would be considered a colossal disappointment. Once there, winning the trophy may be a bit more difficult given that Stony Brook will have a distinct home field advantage should they make it that far. But simply reaching the final weekend is well within reach, and doing so shouldn’t be of any real concern to Cathy Reese and Co.
Justin: I’m going to say yes, Maryland will win the Big Ten tournament, though I could see any of the other three teams taking the trophy. Both Rutgers and Ohio State are playing to keep their seasons alive, and Johns Hopkins will want revenge after how last week’s game ended.
Looking forward, the Terps’ NCAA Tournament chances are even more difficult. As many as eight teams could take home the title, which is almost half the tournament field. However, it’s hard to bet against a John Tillman team being anywhere but the Final Four on Memorial Day Weekend.