Thanks to a devastating pandemic, an unsavory finish to Maryland men’s lacrosse 2020 campaign left plenty to be desired. In just six games, the team demonstrated its perennial ability to produce at a high level on offense, displayed its depth on both sides of the field and was firmly positioned to make a significant run in the NCAA Tournament.
Now with no major departures following the prolonged offseason, the Terps, who are No. 5 ranking per Inside Lacrosse, bring in a roster that includes high-end freshman talent along with prolific upperclassmen athletes. And they’re all poised to make this 2021 season a mulligan to last year’s shortened campaign.
Key players lost
When it comes to production on the field, Maryland’s roster losses are probably not a cause for concern. The departure of defenseman Jack Welding is perhaps the Terps most significant loss considering the potential contributions his talents could provide for Maryland’s back line. Welding had his most productive season in 2018, when he claimed a prominent role as a close defender, starting all 18 games that year while picking up seven ground balls and forcing seven turnovers in that span. He played the following season at a regressed role, only starting 14 of the 17 games he appeared in and missed the entirety of the 2020 season due to injury.
Welding’s defense was missed in 2020, and the graduation of defenseman Curtis Corley and goalie Danny Dolan didn’t help either. The Terps gave up 75 goals in their six games of 2020 after conceding just 56 in their first six contests the year before. The roster turnover on defense continues in 2021 as defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt will be tasked with polishing some of Maryland’s unresolved defensive shortcomings of last year. This mainly includes finding a full-time starting goaltender and employing dependable close defenders alongside him. Of course, a bevy of returners gives Bernhardt options aplenty.
Top players returning
On offense, Maryland was fortunate enough to return most of its surefire talent of the last two years. Familiar faces such as Jared Bernhardt and Logan Wisnauskas will likely headline Maryland’s offensive attack while veterans Bubba Fairman and Anthony DeMaio assist in the midfield.
Watch out for Bernhardt in particular. Bernhardt made the unexpected return to the roster after a stint with college football that never materialized and is looking to walk away from college lacrosse for good with a second national championship. A full season from the All-American could see him breaking Matt Rambo’s school records in points and goals. Right now, the senior needs 25 goals and 67 points to get ahead of Rambo on the all-time list in both categories.
On the opposite end of the field, Maryland welcomes back a defensive core that could provide some positional mobility depending on how Tillman hopes to utilize them. Seniors Roman Puglise, Alex Smith and Nick Grill are the most notable returners for the Terps’ defense, providing some stability for the attack-centered team.
Junior defenseman Brett Makar will take on the supreme responsibility of guarding the opposing team’s best attackman — a role he has comfortably settled into in just 23 starts. Watch out for improved production from Justin Sherrer, Matt Rahill and John Geppart as well — each displayed potential as solid defensive playmakers before the shutdown halted their progression.
At goal, the Terps will also be equipped with a trio of capable goaltenders. Junior Chris Brandau, sophomore Logan McNaney and now senior Drew Morris, who entered the fray after an impressive offseason showing, will all be competing for the starting spot.
“Competition has been really good (at goal), I think right now we feel comfortable with any of those guys going in there,” head coach John Tillman said. “I think we have some really good options, it makes for a very difficult decision. I think we all sleep better at night knowing that whoever goes in there I think is going to do a really good job.”
Adding to Maryland’s attack, graduate transfers Eric Holden (Hobart) and Griffin Brown (Colgate) bring more experience to Maryland’s prolific offense. Both were hallmarks at their previous programs, marking up a combined 195 goals with their respective teams. On the younger side, sophomore transfer BJ Burlace (Yale) will add more depth for the Terps defense.
And of course, as they typically do, the Terps will also be introducing an incredibly talented freshmen class.
“What I like best about the [freshman] is the way they came in, there was a lot of humility. They’ve been extremely coachable,” Tillman said, “I think those guys are gonna be important guys for us as we go through the year.”
Attackman Eric Malever headlines Maryland’s 2020 class with his No. 7 recruit billing from Inside Lacrosse. Malever has earned a US Lacrosse All-American nod twice in his high school career and his 501 career points are the third highest total in Georgia history.
Daniel Kelly and Jack Koras, No. 15 and No. 17 recruits, respectively, add some depth to Maryland’s attack too. Given the current state of the offense, it isn’t likely the top 20 trio will be spending a ton of time on the field, but playing behind athletes like Bernhardt, Fairman, and Wisnauskas could do wonders for their development.
The breadth of offensive talent also comes with new leadership at the coordinator position. After serving as John’s Hopkins offensive coordinator for 14 years, Bobby Benson will replace JL Reppart as an interim coordinator.
“[Bobby Benson] has been in the league since the inception of the league. He’s got a lot of familiarity not only with our team, but the other teams we’re going to play,” Tillman said. “There’s nothing that he hasn’t seen [or] been prepared for. I thought bringing somebody in that has a different background, not just a guy that all he knows is Maryland was really healthy for us.”
This season’s circumstances have restricted Maryland to playing mostly Big Ten opponents for the time being, but that doesn’t mean the upcoming competition is incapable of causing the Terps trouble. Of the five opponents scheduled for the season thus far, three (Penn State, Ohio State and Johns Hopkins) made an appearance on Inside Lacrosse’s Division 1 Preseason Poll.
“When you come to a place like Maryland, you wanna play the best teams in the country,” Puglise said. “At the end of the day the Big Ten is probably one of the best conferences in the country. I think for us, we’re just excited to play.”
For now, the Terps will have their targets set on Michigan to play their first game in 350 days.