Sometimes, good things take time. And such has been the case for Maryland men’s lacrosse’s defense this season. Now with nine games under its belt, the unit seems to get better by the week.
Expectations for the Terps’ defense were deservedly tempered entering this season, given the significant turnover in leadership with Bryce Young and goalie Dan Morris departing for the pros. But this year’s class of seniors has continued Maryland’s tradition of being a strong defensive squad, as Curtis Corley, Nick Brozowski and goalie Danny Dolan have anchored a group that now ranks in the top 10 in scoring defense.
Part of what has made this defense so good is the lack of any real weak link anywhere on the field. The only unknown variable coming in was freshman Brett Makar, a five-star recruit and the second best defenseman in the Class of 2018 who’s been forced into action in his first year with the program. And although it was a considerable adjustment at first, Makar has fallen right into place on Coach Tillman’s close defense.
“It takes a little bit of time to adjust, and seeing Brett come along the way that he is ... he’s come along really, really well,” Corley said. “As soon as he stepped on campus, you kinda saw that this kid was a possible big-time player for us early on in his career, which he’s been, starting these eight games for us and playing really well.”
After late defensive collapses early in the season against the likes of Richmond and Penn, Maryland’s defense has now had half of a season’s worth of games together to find its groove. Now, the unit looks to have reached midseason form, shutting down opposing offenses with regularity. Following a loss at Notre Dame in which the Irish put up 14 goals on the Terps, Maryland has allowed fewer than 10 in each of its three games since. For the players, it’s just been about getting comfortable playing together.
“We had a lot of new parts coming into the year, so I think right now were just clicking guys are trusting each other, you can see the level of chemistry we’re developing,” sophomore short-stick defensive midfield Roman Puglise said. “It starts with our leaders with [Curtis], [Brozowski] and Danny in net, they’re just doing a great job of keeping us together, and Coach Jesse [Bernhardt] has done amazing with his game plans and just keeping us in line.”
Finding that groove defensively is always important for every team at any point in the season, but it’s perfect timing for the Terps, playing at their best just as No. 1 Penn State comes to town. The Nittany Lions have transformed into the top offense in college lacrosse this season, averaging over 18 goals per game to lead in Division I in scoring offense with Tewaaraton finalists Grant Ament and Mac O’Keefe leading the charge. Producing two 20-plus goal games while scoring at least 15 goals in each of their last five, this Penn State attack will be by far the most potent offense the Terps play this season.
The two teams met last year in State College, a game in which then-No. 2 Maryland outlasted then-No. 18 Penn State 14-13. Although the Terps are on the other side of the coin this time around, they’re taking the same optimistic approach they do for every matchup in front of them.
“I think it’s the same. I mean, last year we played them to a one-goal game and they were a very talented team, and it’s the same thing this year,” Puglise said. “With Big Ten play starting up, you know every week from here on out is gonna be a hard grind, and I think that’s exciting and that’s what you look forward to when you come to Maryland.”
While the task that lays ahead may be daunting, Maryland relishes opportunities like these to play against the best teams in the country and try to add to an already-impressive 2019 rèsumè.
“It’s just another challenge for us as a defense, a challenge for us as a team to add another building block on that wall that were trying to build for the overall end of the season,” Corley said. “This is just another battle that we’re gonna have to put our head down and really play good lacrosse.”