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No. 3 Maryland men’s lacrosse vs Johns Hopkins preview

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The Rivalry returns to College Park Saturday.

Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

Maryland’s Big Ten gauntlet continues with a contest against a familiar foe in Johns Hopkins. After skipping a year for the first time in nearly two decades, the greatest rivalry in lacrosse will be facing off once again for a new installment — the first without fans.

And though they aren’t of the same caliber of Penn State or plenty of their counterparts, the Blue Jays, like all Big Ten programs, are perfectly capable of toppling the Terps. But with what’s on the line, there’s plenty to be excited about, especially for Maryland, who’s been on the losing end of their last three meetings.

“It’s a rivalry for a reason, we’re playing for the crab trophy,” Logan Wisnauskas said. “It’s gonna be special whether there’s fans or not.”

Game one for the first of two rivalry trophy matchups is scheduled for Saturday at 1 p.m. in College Park. The action will air on BTN Plus.

Johns Hopkins (1-1)

2020 record: (2-4, 0-0)

Head coach Peter Milliman is the successor of the legendary Dave Pietramala, the winningest coach in Blue Jay history. As the inheritor of a prestigious position of a storied franchise, Milliman has massive shoes to fill. However, as it stands today, his reputation demands respect.

Prior to his hire at Hopkins, Milliman served as Cornell’s head coach for three seasons (2018-20). The Big Red went 28-10 under his leadership with an 8-4 record in Ivy league play. Milliman’s teams amassed three victories against teams ranked in the top two in the nation, including a win against top-ranked and eventual national champion Yale in the 2018 Ivy League Championship game. Milliman also found success as an assistant coach with RIT (2006, 2008), Siena (2007), and Princeton (2013).

Players to watch

Connor DeSimone, senior attacker, 5-foot-11, 195 lbs, No. 3 — After being positioned as a midfielder for the bulk of his lacrosse career, DeSimone has been handed the reins to run the offense as the Blue Jays’ primary option. With just two games under his belt, the senior attackman leads the team in points with five goals and five assists. Last season as a midfielder, his six starts only saw him total seven points.

“Another very heralded guy. I seems like DeSimone has been in the league forever,” head coach John TIllman said, “[He] has a skillset of an attackman but athletically can play the part of a middie. Not too different from a guy like Bubba for us.”

Joey Epstein, junior attacker, 5-foot-11, 180 lbs, No. 32 — The former unanimous 2019 B1G Freshman of the Year and No. 1 ranked freshman will soon be considered among Johns Hopkins’ greatest when it’s all said and done. Epstein, a Maryland native, scored 83 points in just his first 21 starts. He’s also the sixth Blue Jay in program history to reach 50 career goals in 20 games and was the first sophomore to serve as a team captain since 1975. A slow start to the season for his standards has granted him just seven goals in two games.

Josh Kirson, senior goaltender, 6-foot-2, 215 lbs, No. 8 — Kirson, a graduate transfer hailing from Ohio State, hasn’t found major success at his new role but his talent is fairly notable. Last year, Kirson led the Big Ten in save percentage (.584) and goals against average (10.19). And in 25 starts with the Buckeyes, he maintained a 9.95 career goals-against average. However, he has struggled so far this season, allowing 21 goals to just 19 saves.

Strength

Faceoff. While the Terps continue to search for success in the faceoff game, the Blue Jays have posted great numbers with the services of Matt Narewski. Narewski currently has more faceoff wins (24) than Maryland (23) and boasts a strong faceoff percentage at 60%. With Maryland’s struggles in this area, it’s possible Hopkins’ strength here is exacerbated.

Weakness

Inexperience/Chemistry. Johns Hopkins recently welcomed a completely new coaching staff this past offseason. And through two games it’s clear that the Blue Jays are ripe with potential but still are feeling things out with the new leadership. John Grant Jr. (offensive coordinator), Jamison Koesterer (defensive coordinator) and Dan Annino (assistant coach) are all new hires alongside Milliman and — apart from Koesterer — are completely new faces to the program.

Things to watch

1. Can Maryland play a cleaner game? After Penn State, it was clear there are many points of Maryland’s game that were in dire need of polishing. Aside from the faceoff, Tillman said that the team’s offense was rushed and played too aggressively prompting several early mistakes. A more optimal performance could be in the cards for Maryland, especially now that it has two games together. Still, last week’s contest was an indication of how lethal the Terps can be, even at less than 100%.

2. How long does the defense last? For Maryland’s last contest, the defense stepped up and proved to be formidable in the game’s biggest moments. The defense, led by B1G Defensive Player of the Week Nick Grill, goaltender Logan McNaney register the best numbers of his career, granting him B1G Specialist of the Week honors. The team also held Penn State under 10 points and kept its opponent scoreless for nearly 20 minutes.

“I wouldn’t have the success I had at Penn State if it wasn’t for [the defense],” McNaney said. “They just did a tremendous job of putting the shooters and the offense in tough situations where we could get stops and clear the ball.”

After years of struggling concerning defensive mishaps, it looks as though the Terps have their defensive core that can help them combat the nation’s best offenses when the time comes. Sustaining this success is the next step.

3. Who starts at faceoff? This element of the roster seems to be a struggling point for the Terps. Conor Calderone took the job of senior specialist Justin Shockey after he got off to an 0-6 start. Calderone made an immediate impact against Penn State’s Gerard Arceri, but only won seven of 17 faceoffs. Now slated to face another talented specialist in Narewski, the Terps have the unique luxury of choosing between two capable specialists.

“We were very fortunate that, through some saves and ground balls we were able to get some of those possessions back,” Tillman said, “But if we don’t get [our faceoff game] fixed we’re really flipping the field.”