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Maryland men’s lacrosse enters the offseason with unanswered questions on defense

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With Curtis Corley and other defensive pieces graduating, the Terps will have to rely on some new faces in 2020.

Maryland lacrosse Curtis Corley vs. Richmond Lila Bromberg / Testudo Times

Entering the 2019 season, head coach John Tillman led Maryland men’s lacrosse into what many expected to be a transitional year for the program. Having lost several key stars from across the roster, the Terps needed players to step up all across the roster. Some did just that, while others fell short of expectations, and Maryland’s season finished with a 12-5 record and a trip to the NCAA quarterfinals.

We’ve already touched on how Maryland’s attack and midfield positions played this season, and we’ll cap things off with the defensive and goalkeeping units.

Close defense

From Greg Danselgio to Matt Dunn, Tim Muller and Bryce Young, Maryland’s defensive units have always been anchored by strong senior leaders. Curtis Corley inherited that role this season, anchoring the Terps’ close defense and leading it to a top-25 finish in scoring defense. Corley routinely shadowed every opponent’s best attacker, going toe-to-toe with the likes of Mac O’Keefe, Matt Moore and Brendan Sunday week after week. He finished his senior year with 19 ground balls and eight caused turnovers and earned a spot on the All-Big Ten first team as well as being Third Team All-American.

Backing up Corley, junior Jack Welding returned to the starting lineup after making 18 starts in 2018. The junior appeared in all 17 games this season, totaling six ground balls and causing two turnovers, but began to lose playing time late this season. In both of Maryland’s NCAA Tournament games against Towson and Virginia, Tillman elected to start short-stick defensive midfielder Thomas O’Connell at close defense over Welding, citing O’Connell’s leadership, experience and lacrosse IQ as why he made the switch. Welding had a fine season aside from a few lapses here and there, and should be line to start next season, but Tillman’s wariness to use him in certain spots might not make his spot guaranteed.

Freshman Brett Makar rounded out the close defense and lived up to his recruiting hype. He came in as the No. 2-ranked defender and No. 4 overall prospect in the Class of 2018, and became the first Terps freshman since 2012 to start multiple games at close defense, nabbing 25 ground balls and causing four turnovers in 17 starts. Makar looked wise beyond his years in his first season with Maryland, and figures to be a fixture on the defense going forward.

Defensive midfield

With Maryland losing one of its top long-poles in Matt Neufeldt after last season, 2019 became the year where senior Nick Brozowski could take a majority of the long-stick midfielder reps. As a fifth-year senior, Brozowski played an important role for Maryland’s defensive midfield this season, being the first pole off the bench in all 17 games and causing nine turnovers to go with 32 ground balls.

Sophomore Matt Rahill played a good deal of time at LSM as well, appearing in every game after being a reserve last season. He scooped 22 ground balls and also flashed some offensive skill at times, showing his ability to whip the ball into the back of the net with two rocket-like goals this year.

Sophomore Roman Puglise was Maryland’s top short-stick defensive midfielder for the second straight season. After contributing immediately his freshman year—25 ground balls, three caused turnovers—the Virginia native built on his success with an even better performance this year. Puglise almost doubled his ground-ball total with 47, and he contributed on the offensive end as well with seven goals, including a game-winner to beat Penn on the road.

Joining Puglise in the defensive midfield were seasoned vets Wesley Janeck and Thomas O’Connell. Janeck enjoyed his most productive year since coming to Maryland, snatching the third-most ground balls on the team with 47. He also stepped in at faceoff and had what Tillman called “the greatest 3-of-11 faceoff performance ever in the history of the sport” when he was able to get Towson’s Alex Woodall out of his rhythm in the NCAA Tournament. O’Connell didn’t show up as much in the stat book in comparison, posting only five ground balls and one caused turnover, but his experience and versatility made him a valuable asset.

Goaltender

The Terps entered this season in unfamiliar territory, having to account for the departure of the seventh all-time saves leader in program history in Dan Morris. In the preseason, Tillman and the coaching staff held an open competition between the four keepers on the roster: sophomores Colin Miller and Drew Morris, senior Cameron Brosh and redshirt senior Danny Dolan.

Tillman ultimately decided to go with Dolan in cage, and the UMass transfer made his first start with his new team on Feb. 2 against Bucknell. Dolan went on to start all 17 games, finishing second in the Big Ten in both saves per game (11.24) and save percentage (51.5 percent). He also became just the first Terp since 2001 to post back-to-back 15-save performances, doing so against Johns Hopkins and Towson in consecutive weeks.

But his signature moment of the season came on the road against Penn, when Dolan made an incredible save in the final seconds to send the game to overtime, where Maryland would go on to win.

2020 outlook

For the close defense, the duo of Welding and Makar are near-locks to hold down two of the starting spots, but that final spot should be up for grabs. Moving Rahill to the back line is a possibility, but doing so would likely create a hole at LSM with Brozowski graduating. Other options from the current roster include juniors Blake Carrara and Matt McIlroy, although that duo combined to make just five appearances this season.

The Terps will also add a four-star to the defensive unit next season in Kelan Duff (Culver Academy, Ind.), the No. 73 recruit in the 2019 per Inside Lacrosse. Other freshmen joining the fold are LSMs Justin Sherrer (Etowah, Ga.) and Connor Whalen (Bishop Shanahan, Pa.). Although Whalen ranks outside IL’s Top 100, Sherrer ranks No. 41 overall in his class and as the No. 2 LSM.

Another possibility as a potential defense-LSM swing for the Terps is Villanova transfer Michael Ubriaco. The Boys’ Latin alum and former teammate of attackman Logan Wisnauskas appeared in every game for the Wildcats last season, nabbing 25 ground balls and causing 13 turnovers while adding value offensively with three goals.

In goal, Colin Miller and Drew Morris will both return for their junior seasons and should compete for a starting spot that, again, is wide open. Morris likely has the early edge on Miller, given that Miller has yet to appear in a game for Maryland through two seasons with the Terps. Morris, the No. 2 goalie prospect in the Class of 2017, appeared in six games in relief of Dolan this season and registered three saves in his collegiate debut against Villanova.

Maryland is also adding one new face to the goalkeeping group (as of now) in 2019 recruit Logan McNaney (Salisbury, CT). McNaney is the 43rd-ranked recruit and the No. 2 goalie in the 2019 class, and he could be a factor in the competition as next season approaches.