Many times this season, senior midfielder and Tewaaraton finalist Connor Kelly has had to carry the load for Maryland men’s lacrosse. He had the school’s first 10-point game since 1979 in a win over Notre Dame on March 3, and had five points or more in seven of the first 11 games this season.
But since a four-goal, four-assist game against Rutgers, Kelly has only had five points or more in one of the last six games. Against Cornell in the quarterfinals, he scored one goal on three shots while being draped for most of the game by Big Red defender Jake Pulver.
The Terps would have been in trouble if that happened earlier in the season. On Saturday, it wasn’t a problem, as Maryland’s underclassmen picked up the slack in a 13-8 win.
“It tells you we have a lot of good players and a lot of unselfish guys,” head coach John Tillman said about his offense. “ I was just talking to [Connor Kelly] before and he just said, ‘I didn’t feel like I had to go crazy because guys were doing well.’”
Freshman and sophomores combined for 10 goals and six assists Sunday, and made their presence known from the start, when Jared Bernhardt opened the scoring with a wraparound goal in the first quarter. That was the beginning of a big day to come, though Maryland’s underclassmen wouldn’t truly take over the game until the third quarter.
After a penalty kill and save from goalie Dan Morris, the Terps worked the ball around before Bubba Fairman inverted behind the goal and drew a second defender before finding a cutting Logan Wisnauskas right in front of the goal. The two switched places on Maryland’s next goal, with Wisnauskas throwing a skip pass to Fairman, who buried the ball in the back of the net on a man-up opportunity.
Freshmen were involved in each of the Terps’ five goals in the quarter, which helped turn the game from a close contest into a rout. That run was set up by another freshman, Justin Shockey, who won four straight faceoffs in the third quarter, all of which led to goals. Shockey went 13-for-19 at the X, his best performance since going 16-for-20 against North Carolina on March 24.
“He kept getting us the ball,” Fairman said of Shockey. “That’s what we needed, we needed a couple more possessions. Our defense was killing it today, and on top of that, to have faceoffs too was phenomenal.”
On the other side of the field, sophomore Jack Welding had his biggest assignment yet this season in shutting off Cornell attackman Jeff Teat. Teat came into the game with 97 points, and his production had slowed in recent weeks as more teams decided to have a defender shadow him everywhere he went on the field.
Welding said defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt gave him the assignment on the team’s first day of practice last week, and it was something he had never done before. He said he tried to keep it simple, just making sure the Maryland on the front of his uniform matched the Cornell on the front of Teat’s. Maryland also stuck Bryce Young and Adam DiMillo on Teat at certain times and to not exhaust anyone in the heat, but Welding shadowed him for most of the game.
“Jack, he plays a lefty really well,” Tillman said. “We just felt like with three guys that we felt comfortable with, we could chase him around and spend a lot of energy and it wasn’t going to be just one guy.”
At this time of year, opponents know who the best player on the field is, and look to minimize their impact. That opens opportunities for others to step up, which is exactly what Maryland’s younger players are doing in the biggest games of the season.
“Our coaches always talk about peaking at the right time,” Fairman said. “And I don’t think we’ve peaked yet, but I think we’re coming along.”