As the 2021 college lacrosse regular season nears an end, Big Ten squads have grown increasingly skilled and more motivated to topple Maryland. After all, Michigan proved fit to do so after stunning Maryland early at Ann Arbor and Ohio State looks similarly fashioned to do the same as its northern rival in its second matchup against the newly labeled No. 1 Terps.
“I still think we’re just taking it one game at a time,” defender Nick Grill said, “ [and] understanding that we have a really competitive Ohio State team coming in here that’s a lot better than when we played them the first time.”
The Buckeyes will be looking to rise above .500 at College Park on Sunday at 5 pm. The game will be televised on the Big Ten Network.
What happened last time
In Columbus, the Terps played their most balanced game of the season on the road. The lead Maryland maintained for the entire 60 minutes was never in doubt and its control on both sides of the field was prominent.
But as it usually goes for Maryland, the faceoff wins were scarce, Justin Shockey looked beat and questions remained at the position. That was until Luke Wierman entered the game with some answers.
Fortunately for the Terps, Wierman provided some production at FOGO winning seven of the team’s eight wins that afternoon. It wasn’t his best performance, but it was the start of his 2021 campaign and he’s been improving ever since. His 35% win percentage at Ohio State improved to 52% against Penn State and turned into an eventual 60% clip at Michigan. Since his unofficial season debut at Ohio State, Wierman has won 27 of his 48 faceoffs at the X for a 56% clip.
On offense, attackers Logan Wisnauskas and Jared Bernhardt led with seven and five points, respectively, attackers looked pesky on the ride, and the team finished with 10 assists. On defense, Logan McNaney took the role of the team’s anchor and snagged 11 saves to produce a 57% save percentage. The defenders in front of McNaney held Ohio State to just three goals in the first half, but it wasn’t without some struggles to acclimate themselves with the Buckeyes' unrushed and steady offense.
“We’re really never satisfied,” Wisnauskas said, “you know, we’re always trying to put together a perfect game, perfect 60 minutes and we haven’t done that yet this year.”
What’s happened since
The Buckeyes went 2-1 in the following weeks after Maryland initially bounced them down to a 2-3 record. Their lone loss came after a valiant but failed comeback effort to Rutgers. Despite the considerable work at the faceoff (17/22), with the number of shots taken (41 to Rutgers 38) and with groundballs (+7 advantage) by Ohio State, the Scarlet Knights executed when it mattered most and attacker Adam Charalambides’ pair of goals in the closing minutes was enough to allow his team to escape with a rather narrow win. Though it ended unfavorably, the Buckeyes’ loss was an indication of how much they’ve improved since the first portion of the season.
Ohio State had initially lost by 10 points to the Big Ten’s second-best squad when they first met, suggesting the gap between the two was almost impossible to lessen when just considering Ohio State’s waning depth on defense and Rutgers propensity to run up large scores on just about everyone. Ohio State failed to split the season series but was just two goals away from being the second team to beat Rutgers after appearing woefully inferior to the Scarlet Knights just a month before.
Since facing the Buckeyes earlier this season, Maryland has continued to trend in an upward direction, winning three more matchups to reach an 8-0 record for the first time since 2004. Following a win against Michigan on April 10, the Terps moved into the nation’s top ranking. In the three games since traveling to Columbus, the Terps have won by a margin of no less than four goals and have the second-best scoring offense in the country averaging 16.75 goals per game.
Three things to watch
1. What does Terefenko add? Midfielder Ryan Terenfenko is an integral part of Ohio State’s success on the field. Not only is he an experienced leader as a member of the Buckeyes runner-up team in 2017, but he’s also an equally talented midfield centerpiece. Prior to the season, Terefenko was named US Lacrosse Magazine’s preseason midfielder of the year but never had a chance to live up to the hype due to an injury that kept him out for four games. Terefenko returned when the Buckeyes played Rutgers and made an immediate impact adding four groundballs and two caused turnovers to Ohio State’s commendable defensive effort against a top-five offense. And most recently, he notched a hat trick and eight groundballs against Johns Hopkins to help lift the Buckeyes to a .500 record.
With Terefenko on the field, the Buckeyes have added a new level of cohesiveness on the field and have become an increasingly more sound defensive team. The senior captain will be a new player the Terps will have to game plan around heading into round two against Ohio State.
“Now that Terefenko’s back [the Buckeyes] get, arguably the lightning rod of their team,” head coach John Tillman said, “kind of their heart and soul and he does so many things; whether it’s wings or play faceoffs, he had three goals in the first quarter last week, playing defense and then running in transition. He’s a lot to account for and I know he means a lot to them.”
2. Was the slow start what the defense needed to snap into shape fully? In the right conditions, a good beating will humble just about any team. Maryland hasn’t been beaten or truly dominated, but it came close after Michigan scored the first five goals in the two sides' second meeting. At the very least, it was an indication that the defense, though dominant at times, is far from top form. But with plenty of the season left, Maryland could use its second match against Michigan as an example of what could go wrong when the defense isn’t all the way there.
“It could be beneficial to us,” Grill said, “but we got to make sure that going forward, we’re just signed up ready to go at the start, make sure these slow starts don’t kill us when it gets later in the season.”
3. How will Maryland play in its final game at home? After the Terps play in front of their home fans one last time against Ohio State, Maryland will have to get comfortable on the road as quickly as possible. With the Big Ten tournament and the NCAA tournament just weeks away, there will be little room for error. For now, the focus remains, as it has always been, on the immediate task ahead.
“It’s getting to playoff time but we got to make sure that we keep focusing on ourselves getting better in the immediate future, so that when we get there we’ll be set to go,” Grill said.