The No. 2 Terps will be looking to make a leap in next week’s top ranking when they faceoff against No. 15 Penn State in their fourth straight road game.
After No. 1 Albany’s loss to top-seed killers UMBC yesterday, Maryland (8-1, 1-0) has the chance to leapfrog them in the national standings with what will have to be a convincing win at Penn State (7-3, 1-0).
Still, the Terps will have to cope with a slight change in the remaining schedule, as they will be playing the next three games on Sundays instead of the usual Saturdays. When head coach John TIllman realized the team’s last Saturday home game was against Albany on March 10, he had perspective of the sport as a whole instead of the ramifications to Maryland’s groove.
“We have to be sensitive to lacrosse as a sport that’s growing,” Tillman said. “We are trying to get more visibility and are really appreciative of the TV coverage. There’s a bigger picture here and it’s what’s best for our team, conference and sport.”
This game will also serve as the final game away from College Park during this road stretch. Tillman said while moving the North Carolina game to California was difficult because it meant the Terps wouldn’t be back home for four weeks, the team loved the trip out West too much to keep the game in College Park.
“It does seem like it’s been awhile since we’ve been home,” Tillman said. “We loaded the home games up early and what that means is we are going to have some road games later. The guys have done a great job with that.”
The Nittany Lions will be no pushover, however, as they come in to the game having won their last three games. Last time out, head coach Jeff Tambroni’s men defeated Ohio State in convincing fashion, winning 12-4 behind 16 saves from sophomore goalie Colby Kneese and a hat trick from senior midfielder Ryan Keenan.
That victory was huge for a Penn State program that otherwise hasn’t shown up in big games this season. Their three losses all came against ranked opponents in Cornell, Robert Morris and Villanova.
Terrapin shooters will have to bring their shooting strings to get the ball past a well-tested Kneese, who shut the Buckeyes offense out in both the first and fourth quarters. His 10 saves per game is good for 25th in the nation.
Yet, it will be the Nittany Lion offense that will come first on Maryland’s scouting report. Ranked fourth nationally in scoring offense with 13.30 goals scored per game, much of that offense success has come from the midfield. Midfielders like Keenan, Nick Spillane and Kevin Hill are all dangerous downhill dodgers from up top.
Nonetheless, it’s sophomore attackman Mac O’Keefe who leads the team in points with 34 (24 goals, 10 assists). O’Keefe’s gracious left hand and agile dodging allows him to wrap shots around defenders’ hips coming around the left wing.
Maryland’s defense has been strong as of late to counter Penn State’s prolific offense. After shutting out Michigan in the fourth quarter last Saturday, sophomore defenseman Jack Welding said defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt instilled better fundamentals and communication for the defense to drive the victory.
“Every week is a new challenge,” Welding said. “Last week we focused on doing better in the fourth quarter and we weren’t doing as well in the past few games. We got some turnovers late in the fourth quarter to show we’ve been progressing well.”
Welding, who has filled that third close defensive spot well this season, has seen much more playing time during his first full season as a starter, a trend with another West Coaster has seen as well.
Maryland will look to stop the Nittany Lions offensive fueled three-game winning streak tomorrow night for some Sunday night lacrosse on the Big Ten Network. Opening faceoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
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