By: James Consoli
Maryland men’s lacrosse head coach John Tillman would be lying if he said redemption didn’t rest somewhere in his team’s mind.
Following a 17-16 NCAA Championship loss to Virginia last year, Maryland men’s lacrosse team begins this year undefeated, hoping to continue the streak with a win against the Cavaliers.
Maryland is set to face Virginia on Saturday, the team that beat them last year with seconds to spare, ruining its perfect season. With these two teams starting off the season neck-and-neck, this game could very well display an early glimpse into the NCAA Championship game in late May.
“We know how last year ended,” Tillman said. “I’d be lying if I said that it’s just another game.”
The Terps currently rank first in the polls, but Virginia hasn’t lagged far behind. The Cavaliers rank second in the polls, even receiving some votes for first place.
The Terps have returned 33 players from last season to their lineup this year, and Virginia has returned 32. This year, each team has less than 50 players — meaning more than half of last year’s roster has returned in 2022.
As Maryland looks to return to the final game of the season this year, it has started the season off with a gauntlet of opponents. Three of Maryland’s first six games of the season have been against top-ten ranked teams across the nation. Virginia on the other hand, has only played one top-ten matchup so far.
Additionally, this year, Maryland has depended on a veteran-like defensive approach. In each of their last five games, they have not allowed any opposing team to score more than 10 goals. Roman Puglise, a fifth-year defensive midfielder going on five years with the Terps, has expressed this defensive discipline throughout the season.
[We’re mostly] veteran guys,” Puglise said. “Not having to plug too many new guys in [has been beneficial].”
From a look at the offensive approach this season, the Terps are scoring more. In last week’s bout versus Albany, the Terps scored 24 goals on the Great Danes; the first time Maryland has scored that much in a game since 1995. They also scored 11 goals in a quarter versus Albany — the most in a quarter this season. Six games in, the Terps have scored a combined 105 goals. Two years ago, the team scored 94 goals in their first six games; last year they scored 99.
With standout attackman Jared Bernhardt departing after 2021, the Terps have been more balanced in the scoring column in 2022.
“We just don’t rely on one guy on offense,” Tillman said.
Overall, this game holds a lot of weight for both sides. Both undefeated, this midseason clash will give both Tillman and Lars Tiffany’s teams a better look at how they stack up amongst the best. While it may be high stakes, nothing concrete is being decided in mid-march.
“Regardless of what happens Saturday, last year’s game isn’t changing,” Tillman said. “That game is never coming back.”
Maryland’s response this Saturday to last year’s devastating loss will be interesting not only in the result of this game, but for the rest of the season too. With both these teams’ flawless records and comparable statistics, the game this Saturday could foreshadow an early look into what this year’s NCAA Championship would look like.
“You do have to be careful of going, ‘okay this is so much more important than every other game,’” Tillman said. “Because all those games are important.”
Maryland faces Virginia at Audi Field in Washington D.C. at 3:00 p.m. Saturday.