After escaping the four-grame road stretch unscathed, the Maryland men’s lacrosse team returns home for the first time in over a month to host Rutgers.
“It does seem like it’s been awhile since we’ve been back home,” head coach John Tillman said. “Everybody here loves playing in Maryland Stadium…there’s nothing better than being in Maryland Stadium on gameday, seeing the crowd, feeling the energy.”
While the No. 1 Terps (9-1, 2-0) lost their last home game against Albany, this 4-0 run hasn’t exactly given the team any complacency, but instead urgency. Barring any calamitous collapses to the end of the season, it’s likely that the defending national champions will host a playoff game in Capital One Stadium.
Still, this game against Rutgers (8-3, 1-1) serves as one of only two guaranteed home games left for this senior core, something redshirt senior midfielder Tim Rotanz wants to pass onto the underclassmen.
“For the seniors there’s always a sense of urgency, a sense that this is going to end,” Rotanz said. “For the younger guys, I think creating a sense of urgency for them is huge. Getting them to understand this team only has one shot. This team only plays in Maryland Stadium two more times.
“To get that message across is a little more difficult,” Rotanz continued. “It was hard for me as a freshman, you think ‘Hey, I have four more years.’ But in reality, each team only has one year.”
While this team’s time together has plenty of time left this season, Rotanz and his fellow senior captains will look to make sure Maryland comes out with some urgency against the Scarlet Knights, something the Terps lacked against Penn State.
Rutgers comes to College Park with one of their most dominant wins in recent memory, shutting out Michigan halfway through the third quarter before ultimately winning 16-8, its largest margin of victory in the Big Ten era.
Sophomore attackman Kieran Mullins matched his career performance (also against Michigan) with another eight goals whereas senior attackman Jules Heningburg distributed five assists.
This smooth Scarlet Knight offense will have to overcome a Terrapin defense that has held opponents in check late in games recently. In Maryland’s 13-5 win against Michigan, the Terps ended the game on a 7-0 run thanks to some stout defensive efforts. Likewise in the Penn State 14-13 win, the Terps clinched the game with airtight man on man coverage.
Senior goalie Dan Morris is tasked with stopping the eighth-best sharp-shooting team (in terms of shooting percentage, while Maryland is No. 2) in the country. Morris made some clutch saves in the final quarter, stopping four of his 12 saves in last week’s win, something he attributed to the overall efforts of the defense.
“I just try to take each shot as its own thing and not think about the previous shots,” Morris said. “My defense does a really good job keeping me in the game and my other goalies, during timeouts and stuff, they’re always helping me out mentally.”
Maryland’s defense has also been key in triggering transition scoring opportunities for the offense. Senior defenseman Bryce Young showed flashes of his North Carolina goalscoring heroics last Sunday with an impressive back-handed flip pass to assist sophomore Logan Wisnauskas for a second-straight goal in transition. Wisnauskas now has 24 goals through 10 games.
“Our poles have been doing a really good job in transition getting the ball to Logan Wisnauskas so he can put them away,” Morris said. “We always like to play fast, we can play in all sorts of ways. Those fourth quarters call for some transition and we have some poles that can handle the ball.”
The Rutgers defense will be tasked with stopping an offense lead by senior midfielder Connor Kelly. Kelly, who scored a masterful six goals last time out, ranks sixth in the nation for points per game (5.2 ppg) and has seven goals in previous meetings with Rutgers.
Of those seven goals, none were more timely than Kelly’s game-winner to complete the hat trick in last season’s 13-12 triple overtime win in Piscataway, New Jersey. One year prior, Kelly sent four past Rutgers in the Big Ten Final during his sophomore season.
This season presents a different challenge in a matchup that usually brings an abundance of goals. After a performance like last week for Rutgers, this Scarlet Knights offense certainly has the capability of jumping out to an early lead.
Thankfully, the Terps learned to play from behind last week against the Nittany Lions, something Rotanz said came during the right time of year.
“We’ve played with the lead a lot this year so to play that Penn State game and comeback and win was really good for some of the younger guys and some of the new faces who haven’t been in that position a lot,” Rotanz said. “It’s awesome at this point of the season, you really don’t want that kind of a game in the tournament or in the conference tournament because it can really come and bite you.”
Freshman faceoff specialist Justin Shockey has struggled as of late, but could see a boost in performance coming up against the Big Ten’s worst faceoff group, as Rutgers comes into the game winning 48.7 percent of its faceoffs. If Shockey’s struggles continue early on, expect junior Austin Henningsen or senior Will Bonaparte to come in.
Opening faceoff is slated for 7 p.m. on Sunday night and can be followed along live on BTN.
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