By Todd Carton –
Trying to watch two sporting events simultaneously carries inherent challenges. Principal among them is the impossibility of focus and choosing when one game should take precedent over the other. This was the challenge the NCAA placed in front of Maryland lacrosse fans when they concurrently scheduled both the men’s and women’s games in the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
And both squads compounded the difficulty with slow first half starts that failed to match the standards of play to which they hold themselves followed by strong second half performances that led each to expected victories. The men’s squad began their title defense with a 14-11 win over Robert Morris after trailing 6-3 at halftime. Though the women never trailed, their 4-2 halftime lead represented their lowes scoring half of the season before they found their footing on the slippery turf at the Field Hockey and Lacrosse Complex and trounced the Denver Pioneers 15-4.
In team sports, as in a movie or a play, the performance of the supporting cast can often play a critical role in success. However, it’s often the case that the greatest success occurs when the show’s stars shine brightest. While both were true Sunday, it was the determination and dominance of the stars – Tewaaraton finalists Connor Kelly for the men and Megan Whittle for the women – that lifted both Terrapins squads to their respective wins.
After scoring two of Maryland’s four first half goals, Whittle simply dominated the second half scoring with four goals and two assists propelling her to her second consecutive eight point game. In the process, she also moved past Gail Cummings into sole possession of second place in all-time career goals scored having amassed 294 in her illustrious career thus far. Her six goals came on an efficient 10 shots.
But the senior from Glenwood, MD also played perhaps her most complete game of the season adding three draw controls, two ground balls and a caused turnover – the latter coming on a brilliant back check – when Whittle, continuing her relentless play despite the Terps having built a safe 12-4 lead, chased down Denver’s Kennedy Milburn regaining possession for Maryland after the Terrapins had turned the ball over.
With the men’s team facing a 6-3 halftime deficit across campus at Maryland Stadium, whether by design or by the assertion of an individual’s will, the Terps turned to Connor Kelly and the senior delivered precisely what Maryland needed.
After freshman Roman Puglise scored the first goal of his Terrapins career, to narrow the gap to 6-4, Kelly scored twice in just 24 seconds to pull the Terps even and, in a game of runs and momentum, all the energy on the sidelines and in the stands shifted from the side of the upstart to the side of the king. With just six seconds remaining in the quarter, Kelly added his third of the period and fourth of the game. The goal that put Maryland ahead by two and all but extinguished any remaining flicker of upset hope remaining in the hearts of the team from Robert Morris.
Kelly’s support came from Dan Morris in goal – whose 11 first half saves kept the Terps close enough to be sparked by Kelly’s heroics – as well as from freshman Bubba Fairman (three goals and an assist) and Jared Bernhardt and Tim Rotanz who each added a pair of goals and an assist.
Whittle’s support came from Caroline Steele who always seems to shine in the post season and found the net four times and from Jen Giles who added a hat trick of her own as well as Maryland’s defense which, anchored by 10 Megan Taylor saves, held Denver to just four goals.
But make no mistake, it was the excellence, determination and will to win of their senior stars that carried both teams into the tournament’s quarterfinals.
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