Between 1976 and 2016, the Maryland men’s lacrosse team reached the final weekend of the NCAA Tournament 18 times. Each of those times, the Terrapins watched one of the other three teams lift the championship trophy. Still, they persisted. And on the 19th try, under the guidance of head coach John Tillman, after 15,339 days the Terps could once again claim the mantle of NCAA Champions.
But the cycle of sports renews relentlessly and Saturday, a mere 257 days since their crowning achievement in Foxboro, Maryland will take the field to face the Navy Midshipmen in the season opener for both squads. And, although talented, the Terrapins will enter the season with a number of questions about the 2018 team.
Much of the attention will focus on the loss of the trio known as Run DMC – Dylan Maltz, Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock. Those three seniors produced 99 of the Terps’ 237 goals and accounted for 68 of the team’s 118 assists. But it’s not only the potent offense that has moved on. In the midfield, Maryland will need to replace team captain and All-American Isaiah Davis-Allen and in the back, the Terps need to find a successor for Tim Muller, the 2017 Defensive player of the Year and NCAA Final Four Most Outstanding Player. These are just the five most prominent members of a 12 player senior class.
But the cupboard isn’t bare and, as the fans file in to Maryland Stadium, they will recognize some familiar faces and encounter an exciting number of newcomers with great potential. Let’s take a look.
Senior Dan Morris will anchor Maryland’s defense. Although not quite as flashy as his predecessors Kyle Bernlohr and Niko Amato, Morris was no less impressive. Playing all but 24 minutes in 2017, Morris, 2018 Pre Season 3rd Team All American, amassed 200 saves – seventh most for a single season in program history and his .548 save percentage was 11th best in the NCAA.
Although he might have the biggest defensive shoes to fill, Expect Bryce Young to step into Muller’s role of primary defender and he’s well-equipped to do so. Nick Brozowski, who distinguished himself with five ground balls in the 2017 championship game, Curtis Corley will most likely be the 3rd long pole defender. Curtis also had a stand out performance in the title game.
Matt Neufeldt the long-stick midfielder who scooped up a team leading 68 ground balls in 2017 as well as leading the Terps with 21 caused turnovers, hopefully continues his stellar role on this team.
Based on the early reports from practice, it looks like junior Wesley Janeck is most likely to take on the role played by Davis-Allen. Janeck played in 16 of Maryland’s 19 games last season and picked up 19 ground balls. Perhaps the most comforting aspect of Maryland’s defense is that the Terps have a well-established philosophy and approach that has allowed that unit to maintain remarkable consistency throughout the Tillman years in which the highest goals against average was last season’s 8.79.
Terrapins fans might be concerned because of the departure of long time defensive coordinator Kevin Conry to assume the head coaching job at Michigan. However, with Jesse Bernhardt, a 2013 product of that system, taking the reins of the defense, few changes are likely and Maryland will almost certainly be able to ride the strength of its defense as the offense develops.
In the attacking zone, the Terps will present an interesting mixture of youth and experience. Naturally, much of the attention will focus on pre-season Player of the Year watch list nominee Connor Kelly who has been tabbed to wear the number 1 following in the footsteps of following in the footsteps of such greats as Rambo, Mike Chanenchuk, Grant Catalino and Joe Walters. A returning 2017 First Team All-American, Kelly led the Terps with 46 goals and enters the season with 82 for his career. It’s possible that Kelly will alternate between midfield and attack.
When he’s in the midfield, he’ll likely be joined by redshirt senior Tim Rotanz and junior Adam DeMillo. Rotanz is coming off a career high 33 goals in the 2017 season that included a hat trick in the championship game against Ohio State. DeMillo emerged as a threat late last season and scored a pair of goals in the Terps’ 9-6 title game win.
Sophomore Jared Bernhardt, Jesse’s younger brother will likely take control as the number one player on attack. Bernhardt is one of the most explosive and dynamic players to come to Maryland in quite some time. As is Tillman’s preference with young attackers, Bernhardt spent much of his freshman season as part of the midfield attack. This not only allowed him to acclimate to the pace and skill of college play but will give Tillman the opportunity to invert Berhnardt and Kelly to create some confusion for opposing defenses.
One freshman who will electrify fans is Bubba Fairman. Fairman, who comes to Maryland as the nation’s top rated recruit, leads a large 15 player class that’s supplemented by Logan Wisnauskas a transfer from Syracuse and Californian Anthony DeMaio who took a redshirt season in 2017. Fairman will probably be a key component of Maryland’s midfield unit but could spend time attacking from behind the goal as well.
The faceoff dot is another spot where the Terps could feature a freshman. Although Maryland returns Austin Henningsen and Will Bonaparte, Justin Shockey, a late addition to Maryland’s freshman class, could prove to be among its most critical.
The addition of Shockey, who comes to the Terrapins as the country’s top high school faceoff specialist will give three options in this critical phase of the game. Shockey brings the added dimension of being a skilled attacker who could force opponents to keep their faceoff specialist on the field for extended time on defense.
The road back to championship weekend will not be an easy one. In what has arguably become the best lacrosse conference in the NCAA, four Big Ten schools join the Terps in the preseason top 15 with Michigan as the only unranked squad. But if their conference schedule isn’t daunting enough, Maryland squares off against three top 10 teams in their eight non-conference games – at home against number six Notre Dame and number three Albany and in California against number nine North Carolina – and their game in Philadelphia against Villanova gained some added cachet after the Wildcats won an overtime thriller in Happy Valley over 12th ranked Penn State.
And it all starts at noon Saturday when Maryland hosts Navy in College Park.
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