Feature photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics.
Saturday is senior day for the Maryland men’s lacrosse team and it also happens to be their biggest game of the season. The Terps will host the number one team in the country, Big Ten rival Penn State.
The Nittany Lions have been on fire this season and have taken the country by surprise. Penn State is scoring 14.7 goals per game, highlighted by freshman attackman Mac O’Keefe’s 3.5 goals per game, which ranks second in the nation.
O’Keefe has been the catalyst for Penn State’s offense this season and is a major reason they are 10-0. For reference, Penn State’s leading goal scorer last season was Nick Aponte with 30 goals through 15 games. O’Keefe already has 35 goals in only 10 games.
The four-time Big Ten Freshman of the Week wouldn’t be averaging a hat trick per game if it weren’t for the rest of his attack unit. Along with Aponte, sophomore Grant Ament, who led the Nittany Lions in assists last year with 34, is continuing last season’s pace with 22 goals and 18 assists on the year. Aponte has the slight edge in assists, leading the team with 20.
With all these assists coming from Aponte and Ament, it isn’t hard to see why O’Keefe has 35 goals this season.
“You don’t get to be No. 1 by accident,” Maryland head coach John Tillman said. “I just think they’re really sound everywhere.”
Slowing down Penn State’s attack unit will be the toughest task of Maryland’s season so far and Tillman still thinks his defense could improve.
“The big goal for us is just to try and be more consistent,” Tillman said. “We’ve had some breakdowns and at times on Saturday I thought we weren’t on the same page, but there are times when we’ve played very well.”
Senior defenseman Mac Pons’s return is still uncertain two months into the season, but he has been out running in practice, Tillman said.
He also said it is never too late for Pons to return but that is a personal decision for him because he has missed so much of the season already. He can redshirt this season if he chooses not to play.
“For Mac, the decision is do I come back and try to play with my class or does he just say I’m going to give up on the year and I’ll just come back next year again and take the redshirt,” Tillman said.
The class Pons came in with includes Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock, Tim Muller and Isaiah Davis-Allen and Tillman thinks that plays a big role in his decision of whether or not to play this season.
“I think there’s a strong desire for him to play with Matt, Colin and Timmy,” Tillman said. “Those are his roommates, so I think it means a lot to him.”
As tough as it is for all seniors playing in one of their final games in Maryland Stadium, it is equally as tough for Maryland head coach John Tillman.
“Senior day is always tough,” Tillman said. “Unless you’re that senior in that moment it is hard to understand.”
Senior Isaiah Davis-Allen has been a leader for Maryland all season and said his emotions will be all over the place come Saturday.
“This is going to be one of my last times stepping foot out there at Maryland Stadium. It’s going to be something different,” Davis-Allen said. “I think I’m definitely going to be both joyful and sad.”
Even though Saturday will be emotional for a large portion of the Maryland team that starts five seniors, they can’t let it get in the way of what they have to do: beat Penn State.
“There’s sometimes a bit of an emotional response to that so that’s something we have to manage,” Tillman said. “You don’t want to get too emotional because all of the sudden you’re not making good decisions. You just never know, emotionally, what the response will be.”
This senior class has been to two Final Fours and Tillman said he will always be thankful for them.
“We’ve really enjoyed this group,” Tillman said. “I think the world of them.”
Other seniors celebrating senior day include faceoff specialist Jon Garino, midfielders James Bull, Nick Manis, Josh Reinson and Ben Chisolm, attackman Dylan Maltz and goalie Conor Cunningham.
Garino has seen some big minutes in recent weeks and has stepped up with Austin Henningsen’s struggles. Both of them, along with Will Bonaparte, will have a tough task in slowing down Penn State faceoff specialist and three time Big Ten Specialist of the Week Gerard Arceri. Arceri has won 68% of the faceoffs he has taken this season, which ranks fourth in the nation.
John Tillman has been preaching 60 minutes of consistent lacrosse all season and for the No. 8 Terps to pull off the upset against the number one team in the country, they will need to have that consistency for the entire game on Saturday.
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