With its sixth straight victory of the 2021 season, Maryland men’s lacrosse has hummed to a start it hasn’t enjoyed since 2014. The 2021 regular season start, though not as rigorous as those of years past, is an undeniable indication of what the Terps are capable of now, and could potentially serve as a signal of what may be in store this postseason.
Penn State used to be the team that Maryland is now, but as the half-empty stands and COVID-19 testing protocols would indicate — times have changed. Unlike Maryland and much like the half of the Big Ten, the Nittany Lions stand with a record under .500 and are searching for wins to earn a serious bid as the league’s third best team.
In hopes of their first consecutive win since 2020 and their second all-time victory over the Terps, the Lions will be headed to College Park to try and claim a much-needed win.
“People have made adjustments, people are hungry,” head coach John Tillman said, “People now want to get you this time, whether it’s revenge or they have a chip on their shoulder.”
The matchup will air on Big Ten Network Plus at 1 p.m.
What happened last time
Week two’s meeting was the first of several slow road starts Maryland has endured throughout the season. The Terps sustained lackluster production on various fronts during the opening minutes of the contest. Despite trailing 6-0 at the faceoff X and 12-6 in shots, Maryland held the 3-2 advantage on the scoreboard at the end of the first quarter.
The lead was reclaimed by the Nittany Lions early in the second frame, but the Terps used a 6-0 run to take an insurmountable lead that would ultimately hold for the rest of the contest. Even with the win, Maryland was unquestionably tepid on the offensive side of the ball. Early on, the offense squandered shot opportunities and dropped routine passes to allow Penn State to remain close. Faceoff specialist Justin Shockey’s 0-6 start on faceoffs prompted an opening for faceoff specialist Conor Calderone to find success of his own at FOGO.
The decision proved to be a key “shot in the arm,” that Tillman believed gave Maryland an opportunity to run away with the lead. It also marked the beginning of Maryland’s inconsistencies at the position. Through it all, the defense showed out. Sophomore goalie Logan McNaney had his breakout game with 16 saves and a 69% save percentage. Close defenders and short sticks held Penn State’s front three to a combined two goals with 18 shots.
What’s happened since
About a month has passed since the two sides last met. In that time, Maryland has won plenty as Penn State has searched for a winning identity. While Maryland has gone 4-0, Penn State has gone 2-2. In March, Penn State weathered through a two game losing skid and was bounced out of the USILA Coaches Poll following a shocking loss to a then-winless Michigan team.
In its last contest, Penn State managed to split the season series with Johns Hopkins after initially falling to the Blue Jays in a seven point loss. With the win, they’ve slid back into the top 20. In the time the two teams spent apart, the Nittany Lions have become healthier as well. Nick Cardille and Brayden Peck are two senior defensemen who have turned the corner after previously dealing with injuries early in the season.
“They’ve adjusted some things that suit their personnel,” Tillman said, “So we’re just going to have to be really buttoned up, we’re gonna have to be really organized and communicate.”
Three Things to Watch
1. Will the defense yield the same results against TJ Malone and O’Keefe? Malone and O’Keefe were held to a combined two goals off 15 shots by virtue of the stout defense of McNaney, Brett Makar, Nick Grill and other defensive standouts. Maryland is looking to do something similar at home to take its seventh win against a wavering Penn State squad.
“Nick [Grill] did a great job and all defense did a good job so we’re going to try and replicate that, and kind of go into this week knowing that they have some new guys out there and they‘re a good offense so they’re gonna come in here hungry so we got to be ready,” senior defensive midfielder Roman Puglise said.
O’Keefe has improved after his pedestrian first two games, while Malone has had more fleeting success finding the back of the net. But the talent is still there and Tillman is very diligent of what may be in store for Maryland on Saturday.
2. Will Jared Bernhardt surpass Matt Rambo? Bernhardt’s four goal performance was enough to put him just a goal behind Matt Rambo for the most in program history. Barring an unforeseen set of circumstances, it’s likely, at the very least, Bernhardt will tie his former teammate. The fifth year senior will be able to do so in the season’s first home contest with fans, cementing his legacy as one of the program greats on a more familiar stage.
“We definitely missed the fans in the stadium,” senior defender Matt Rahill said, “So it’ll be good to have them and have some more family there to support us so we’re definitely looking forward to that.”
3. Is Maryland nearing the solution to its faceoff woes? The faceoff X is undoubtedly Maryland’s Achilles’ heel. For Maryland, when the faceoff guy is humming, oftentimes so is the offense. When the offense is clicking, the Terps are typically stacking points on the scoreboard. However, when the faceoff guy is struggling, Maryland loses out on offensive opportunities and becomes a beatable opponent — and Tillman knows that. With the inconsistencies of Shockey, it’s possible Maryland’s solution to this problem is deeper in the depth chart.
“We are a team that instead of having one guy, we have multiple guys,” Tillman said. “Maybe that’s who we are, maybe we’re a team that we don’t just rely on one guy, We actually have to rely on multiple guys because the matchups dictate that.”