First impressions are crucial. Of course, it’s impossible to properly evaluate Maryland men’s lacrosse in its true, fully-realized glory after one game, but opening day gave us plenty to learn from.
The No. 4 Terps’ 20-9 shellacking of Michigan was an impressive win on its face, making for plenty of encouraging — and some mildly concerning — narratives to focus on heading into the rest of the season.
So here are three takeaways from Maryland’s 2021 home opener.
Short-stick defensive middies had quite the afternoon.
Good defense, as crucial as it is, can sometimes take a backseat to all the glamour and hype that comes on the offensive side. But for a team like Maryland, the efforts of an elite or even consistently good defense could make or break this team as the season goes on. In particular, what stood out the most Saturday afternoon was the steady work of the Terps’ short-stick defensive midfielders.
“I think the last couple years we haven’t played [defense] at the standard we would like to play,” head coach John Tillman said. “We all embrace that standard here, it’s something we take a lot of pride in. So I think there’s been, in the past 11 months, a lot of investment in our short-stick group.”
The investment paid off with career outings from senior defensemen Nick Grill and Jake Higgins. Grill, normally positioned as a close defender, was bumped up to shadow Alex Buckanavage, Michigan’s star attackman. Buckanavage was held scoreless on six shots thanks to the services of Grill, who also forced a career-high three turnovers and grabbed four ground balls, earning him Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week honors.
Meanwhile, Higgins’ efforts resulted in a less spectacular but considerably impressive defensive and offensive performance, typified by an athletic goal early in the second quarter. Higgins used roll dodge to get past two Michigan defenders to tally his first goal of his Maryland career.
Outside of the aforementioned duo, defensive midfielders Josh Coffman, Alex Smith and Roman Puglise all added to the concerted domination of Michigan’s offense. Solid clearing (20-of-22) and a strong showing from goalie Logan McNaney also helped contribute to just three Michigan goals in three quarters. The only thing missing was a strong defensive finish to punctuate the win — six conceded goals in the fourth quarter wasn’t the finish the Terps were looking for.
The thankless job of defending for an offensively prolific Maryland team won’t be so thankless if the Terps’ defense can perform like it did against Michigan. Regardless, consistency throughout and between games is key.
Everyone has to be ready to step up on offense.
With an offense as loaded as this one, opposing defenses will just be picking their poison in facing an inevitable onslaught by each one of the Terps’ many skilled attackmen. Michigan opted to focus its sights on Maryland’s more seasoned offensive talents, providing numerous opportunities at goal for attackman Daniel Maltz, who found the back of the net five times.
“I think I just try to play off guys like [Jared Bernhardt], [Logan Wisnauskas] and [Anthony DeMaio], they draw so much attention and the slide comes so fast,” Maltz said. “Just kind of follow that slide and luckily I’m wide open thanks to all the work they’re doing.”
Midfielder Bubba Fairman’s game suffered at the expense of the Wolverines’ game plan — aside from an acrobatic goal late in the third quarter, he didn’t produce with the same degree of success he normally does. Fairman, Jared Bernhardt and Anthony DeMaio each took some time to get going on Saturday, but expect the trio to eventually get going, find their shots and pile up plenty of goals and assists this season.
Attackman Eric Holden will find his groove too. The graduate transfer entered the game hampered with an injury and had a tough time fitting in the offense. When healthy, though, his services off the bench could take a great deal of scoring responsibilities from Maryland’s other tenured veterans. In the meantime, freshman attackmen Eric Malever and Daniel Kelly should be scoring in their absence — if they’re ready for the moment like Maltz was Saturday afternoon.
Logan McNaney showed promise in his first action of 2021.
When McNaney made his first start for Maryland in 2020, Tillman characterized the decision as a leap of faith. After just two starts, McNaney entered an offseason still with his role in doubt, faced with the competition of two other talented goaltenders vying for his spot. But in his season debut, McNaney made a case to put all of the goalie discussion to rest.
Aided by his defense, McNaney put on a solid three-quarter performance until the Terps’ defense collapsed late in the contest. Maryland’s close defenders ensured McNaney was only given the easier shots to corral. His save percentage, well over 50% prior to Michigan’s futile comeback attempt, sunk down to a less appealing 40% at the end of the match.
Everything changed for McNaney in the final minutes. His saves became significantly tougher as the defense crumbled and more shots inevitably peppered the back of the net. After totaling six saves in the first three quarters, the sophomore failed to stop all six shots on goal in the fourth, yet another indication that Maryland’s success this season may be predicated on the defense’s ability to finish contests and remain consistent.