Seniors Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock and Tim Muller have played in two national championship games. They lost both of them.
Now, those three—the core of the Maryland lacrosse team—will get one last chance to earn that elusive title.
Ohio State is all that stands in the way of the Terps’ first national championship since 1975. The two teams will face off for the third time this season Monday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Both teams know exactly what to expect from each other, having played twice already in the past month. Not much is changing in Maryland’s preparation, according to the defenseman Muller, and it’s hard to tell if that’s a good or bad thing.
“They’ve played us three weeks ago also, so they’re looking at the same film we’re looking at,” senior defenseman Tim Muller said. “But it’s definitely nicer to play a team that we’ve played.”
The first time these teams played, Johnny Pearson won it for Ohio State in overtime. The second time Colin Heacock scored the game-winning goal with 3:27 left to give Maryland a 10-9 victory and a Big Ten Tournament Championship.
Another thing that will help the Terps adjust to the short, two-day turnaround for the final is the tough stretches throughout Maryland’s schedule this season.
During the season, Maryland played Penn State, Albany and Rutgers in a span of nine days. During the Big Ten Tournament, Maryland beat Penn State and Ohio State in a span of three days.
“Those were three potential Final Four teams and that helped us going forward.,” junior midfielder Connor Kelly said. “Obviously, coach has tried to put us in the best situation possible going throughout the year. He’s created contingency plans like when we went through that three game stretch during the season.”
When it comes to face offs, Maryland has had the toughest stretch they could have ever had. In the quarterfinal against Albany they had to take on T.D. Ierlan, the nation’s second best faceoff specialist. Against Denver they had to take down the nation’s best in Trevor Baptiste. In the final against Ohio State they will need to slow down the nation’s fourth best specialist, Jake Withers.
Withers has gotten the best of Maryland twice this year, going 18 of 25 in the first game and going 13 of 23 in the second. Maryland, however, has been able to take down the nation’s top two faceoff specialists in their last two games so there is some confidence on the Maryland side.
“It’s been challenging but I think our group collectively has done a good job of preparing all year,” Tillman said. “I don’t think our numbers are awesome, but they’ve done enough to help us win and all four of those guys work incredibly hard all week.”
Maryland has shown lots of resilience this season and it has shown in their wins and even in their losses. Each of Maryland’s three losses have been by one goal each and if Colin Heacock’s had played through his ankle injury that sidelined him for the first matchup with Ohio State then it might only be two losses.
Denver was able to hold Matt Rambo to two points in Saturday’s matchup and Rambo has another tough matchup against Ohio State’s junior defenseman Ben Randall. Randall is Ohio State’s first ever First Team All-American and he has racked up 48 ground balls and caused 13 turnovers this season.
In their last matchup in the Big Ten Tournament final, Randall held Rambo to one goal and two assists but Rambo got the overall edge in the matchup because he was the one that won the title.
The tournament final showed how equal these teams are with their offensive abilities. Both teams went back and forth in the second half of the game and Maryland was barely able to squeak out a victory.
Both teams have great respect for each other, but playing a team three times in a year can spark a rivalry but the Terps aren’t looking at it that way.
“They’ve had a great year. They’re obviously here for a reason, so we have a ton of respect for them,” Muller said. “We can’t really look at them with dislike or anything. Just kind of respect.”
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