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No. 3 seed Maryland suffers a heartbreaking loss to No. 4 seed Virginia in National Championship, 17-16

The Terps’ undefeated run comes to an end in the National Championship.

2021 NCAA Division I Men’s Lacrosse Championship Photo by Larry French/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Following a clutch finish from midfielder Anthony DeMaio, Maryland men’s lacrosse was granted one more chance to make it past regulation against Virginia.

10 seconds remained and the Terps were down by one as FOGO Luke Wierman was at the X trying to give the Terps one more possession. When he succeeded and rolled the ball towards Virginia’s cage, he was left with space to finish and used it to take a strike.

It was on target, but not on the mark the Terps needed.

The shot was slotted right between goaltender Alex Rode’s numbers and Virginia immediately captured the rebound. As the defense sent the ball to the opposite end of the field, Virginia’s celebration commenced and Maryland suffered its first loss since 2020.

Maryland had conquered just about every challenge it had dished its direction all throughout a relatively uncontested 2021 campaign, but Virginia’s combination of talent and scheme offered a challenge Maryland couldn’t bear down the stretch. It was a test that left the undefeated Terps squad scrambling for answers and, eventually, falling flat to Virginia’s balanced play, 17-16.

“I’m obviously disappointed for them because there’s a lot of hurt in the locker room,” head coach John Tillman said, “but, man, I’m thankful. I’m thankful to be with a group like that, that every day you’re just very motivated to work hard for them because they’re just doing so much that a lot of kids aren’t willing to do . . . I think if you’re a Maryland fan today you’re disappointed in the ending, but you won’t be disappointed with the effort and heart and toughness and character this group.”

Defense took center stage for the two jittery squads early in the season’s biggest contest. But even after Maryland was tested with two men down, the four-man defense prevailed and scored in the following possession.

Though Virginia’s offense was held to nothing in six-on-six situations, it took advantage of the faceoff domination it enjoyed for the game. As Maryland began to thread scores together in typical Maryland fashion, through transition or through tactical distribution, the Cavaliers took advantage of the damage they could deal, anywhere on the ground or on the ride.

With their efforts in the first half, it was enough to mark up two scores to Maryland’s four, a Maryland lead that would hold for only a minute before the Cavs displayed their versatility.

As the first quarter came to a close, Maryland’s unyielding defense grew porous in six-on-six sets and it continued for the rest of the game.

“A lot of their goals I think came down to just us not having the best fundamentals,” defenseman Brett Makar said, “we didn’t really have a clean game on our part. You really think about the one missed ground ball or the bad pick play ... Just so many plays running through my head right now and I’m sure a lot of guys feel that way.”

The mistakes added up and the Cavaliers were ready to set the tone on all facets. So they scored however they pleased and manufactured a six-goal run. After a pair of midfielder Connor Shellenberger lasers past Logan McNaney, one transition, long-stick goal by defender Jared Conners and three more scores by the Cavs, Virginia’s two-goal deficit flipped to a four-goal lead.

The Terps had a mountain to climb.

But with Virginia’s defense, the comeback ended up being their toughest. And if it weren’t for Jared Bernhardt, who scored his first two goals of the game to trim the lead to two, the trek to tie would have been impossible.

Virginia’s lanky defense held Bernhardt to a relatively quiet afternoon to his standards, but he got involved before long. After a first-quarter with two assists, Bernhardt added his only two goals in the following frame, despite being smothered by defenders. Still, his work and attacker Griffin Brown’s tightrope finish at the crease left space between the two sides, meaning Maryland would be heading into half facing a two-goal deficit for the second time all year.

But without possessions, there was little Maryland could do to stem the tide of Virginia goals. That was, until the faceoffs began going their way, thanks to Wierman, and their efforts on the ride paid off. It allowed three scores from attacker Logan Wisnauskas and an energy-boosting transition score from midfielder Roman Puglise, evening the score, 11-11, for the first time since the close of the first quarter.

It held for just one minute as Virginia continued to score with its numerous possessions and take advantage of McNaney’s ugly afternoon. A new Cavalier run began and Maryland’s title hopes officially began to fade. With Virginia’s 14th score, the Terps had conceded the most goals it had all year, and the Cavaliers beaming energy loomed large as they entered the fourth quarter down, 14-11.

In the end, the run amounted to five goals total, with attacker Matt Moore’s underhand shot four minutes into the final frame looking to be the crunch time dagger.

“We just had to keep battling,” Wisnauskas said, “Luke [Wierman] did an awesome job in the middle of the field, getting us some possessions in the second half. We just kept moving the ball kept moving our feet and just getting good opportunities. I feel like that’s what kind of set us up.”

With around a third of a quarter left, Maryland marked up a four-goal run of its own, featuring a variety of shots. Wisnauskas from deep, a finish from midfielder Bubba Fairman, a finish at the crease from attacker Daniel Maltz and a left-hand strike from DeMaio. Each score was a product of a faceoff victory produced by Wierman, who came off the bench to snag 14 wins, or a Virginia penalty. The Cavaliers faltered and the Terps took over, but it wasn’t enough.

After two more goals exchanged between the two sides, the clock hit zero and the Terps fell one game short of perfection.

Three things to know

1. Maryland falls to 1-5 in the championship game under John Tillman. In the last ten years, advanced to the title game in 2011, 2012, 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2021. The Terps were victorious in 2017 for the first time in the championship game since 1975, but were not able to secure the win in Monday’s matchup to bring the trophy back to College Park. The loss ended Maryland’s opportunity for its first undefeated season since 1973.

2. McNaney followed his best game with a tough afternoon. After each goal he conceded in the first-half run that Virginia used to set the tone of the contest, McNaney grew visibly frustrated. By the end of the first half, he had allowed nine scores and accumulated just six saves for a 40% save percentage. McNaney finished with 11 saves and 17 goals allowed, his worst mark of the season.

3. Jared Bernhardt was silenced. On a regular day, Bernhardt, the Tewaaraton frontrunner, averages 4.6 goals per game and 6.3 points. But against Virginia, Bernhardt had just two goals and three assists for a total of five points. By most accounts, it would have been a good game, but for a guy who scored at least five times in every tournament game before it, it was a meager performance. The Cavs played tight defense on the star attacker and doubled him every chance they got to successfully shut him down better than any other challenger this season. Connor Shellenberger, the other No. 1 on the field, ended up tallying a Bernhardt-like performance of his own with four goals and two assists.