The Terps have something to prove this month. No. 1 seed Maryland men’s lacrosse has made a statement all throughout the regular season and has the chance to uphold it with an equally impressive postseason.
Looking to spoil the Terps lofty playoff aspirations is an improved Michigan team that has plenty to prove as well. The Wolverines are far removed from their struggles in February and, evidently, a much stronger team than what they were against Maryland in their second regular-season bout.
“[Michigan is] improving a lot each week. And they’re a really good team. And they’re kind of peaking at this moment in time,” defenseman John Geppert said, “[Our approach is:] taking what we’ve done in previous matchups, building on that, fixing the things that we might have not done as well in the same focus and knowing that nothing is given to us. We have to win each game to continue to play and achieve the goals that we set out.”
After a week without Maryland men’s lacrosse, the Terps return on Thursday to face No. 5 seed Michigan at 5 pm on Big Ten Network.
What happened last time
Michigan shocked the Terps early in their second meeting. For the first six minutes — and for the first time all season — Maryland looked beatable. Michigan’s front six shredded the Terps defense, Justin Shockey struggled at the X and Maryland’s tepid offense did little to quell the Wolverines 5-0 start.
In the 31 minutes that followed, Maryland looked unstoppable.
The Terps responded with a 16-point run made possible by a timely outburst from faceoff specialist Luke Wierman and clean ball distribution from the offense. Attacker Jared Bernhardt and attacker/midfielder Anthony DeMaio combined for 10 of the 16 points spanning all throughout the second quarter deep into the third. The 16-0 run was the longest of the season. The seven score mark — a threshold Maryland passed in both the second and third quarter — was the most the Terps had scored in a quarter for the season. On top of that, Wierman’s 15 win afternoon was the best of his short regular-season stint, and it was against the First Team All-Big Ten Faceoff Specialist Nick Rowlett.
The Terps used the run to obliterate all of the Wolverines’ upset hopes and hand Michigan its first loss in April.
What happened since
After the loss to the Terps, the Wolverines played two nail-biters to close out their regular season. The first was an overtime thriller against Penn State that ended with a walk-off goal by attacker Mac O’Keefe with three seconds left in the period. The following contest was lost in a similar fashion. The Wolverines traded blows with then-No. 8 Rutgers but had no answer for attacker Connor Kirst’s unassisted score late in the final frame. They lost by a point once again as a result.
Michigan bounced back in the Big Ten tournament with its first win against the Buckeyes. The Wolverines used their All-Big Ten specialist and blistering front six to overwhelm Ohio State and claim their first-ever Big Ten tournament win and third win of the season.
Maryland grabbed a relatively easy win against Ohio State the week after dispatching Michigan and played in a barnburner of its own against Johns Hopkins in the regular-season finale. The Terps erased a two-point lead in less than two minutes of regulation and snatched a hard-fought victory win from the Blue Jays.
Since then, Maryland has used a well-earned bye week, regrouping and resting ahead of what looks to be an exciting postseason and Maryland’s first in over a year.
“Like I said before, we can’t be satisfied with where we are,” attacker Logan Wisnauskas said of the prospect of competing in a postseason after a shortened 2020 campaign, “We still got to get better, and we still got to improve.”
Three things to watch
1. Can Maryland avoid early jitters? At this point, it’s no secret Maryland is prone to playing uncharacteristically early, and it’s likely Michigan will be looking to take advantage of that flaw. This time around, Maryland should be wary of an early run by Michigan and preempt the run by setting the tone early.
“We saw what happened last time we went up to Michigan and how they jumped on us early and we were fortunate enough to go on a big run,” Geppert said, “so knowing that we need to come out firing, send a message, and just take care of business is really important to us.”
2. How will Luke Wierman look to start the postseason? Aside from an uninspired finish in the quarterfinals, Rowlett has been on a tear lately. Wierman has had an impressive run of his own, helping fuel Maryland’s offense in some of the season’s most crucial junctures, most notably, in the waning minutes against Johns Hopkins with the final three faceoff wins. Steady wing production will be vital to Wierman’s success against Rowlett.
3. What will Michigan bring this time around? As the defense finds its way, Michigan continues to ride the success of the offense. In the quarterfinals, Michigan’s 15 goals came from a program record of 10 different goal scorers. Attacker Michael Boehm, attacker Josh Zawada and attacker Bryce Clay each have 20 goal seasons and have regularly combined to score multiple goals in Michigan’s most recent outings.
Moreover, it’s been pretty evident that Michigan has brought a new flavor of lacrosse in each of its contests with Maryland — adding aggressiveness in the ride and improved zone defense in the latter half of the season. The Wolverines put up strong performances against Penn State and Rutgers with the changes and tallied its first win in the quarterfinals, swarming the Buckeyes on the ride and coupling those efforts with a confident brand of zone defense.
Maryland will be set to play a blossoming Michigan team, putting more onus on the Terps to arrive prepared for whatever Michigan may be looking to bring.
“They kind of have a good thing going,” head coach John Tillman said, “and we just need to realize that the group we’re going to get and we need to be prepared for all of these things are doing and play a complete game.”