For the first time since 2018, Maryland (14-0) will be playing on Memorial Day Weekend looking to inch one step closer to an undefeated season and a fourth National Championship in program history.
That championship weekend journey begins on Saturday against Duke (14-2) at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Connecticut. Saturday’s matchup marks the 84th meeting between the two storied programs.
“There’s a lot of inspiration to try to get to [Memorial Day Weekend] just because there’s a lot of meaning when you’re on that field,” head coach John Tillman said. “It’s hard not to get choked up when you’re hearing the national anthem and you know how many people have made sacrifices to allow us to do what we want to do.”
Both Duke and Maryland’s prolific offenses feature a Tewaaraton Award Finalist spearheading the attack. Michael Sowers, the Princeton graduate transfer, is the main catalyst for Duke’s offense, while Jared Bernhardt, the nation’s leading scorer is the engine that fuels Maryland’s high-powered offense.
Although, Sowers draws much of the attention, fellow attackmen Brennan O’Neill and Joe Robertson offer challenges for the Terps as well. O’Neill, the No. 1 recruit in last year’s class has shined in his freshman season posting 54 points (44G, 10A) showcasing his prolific lefty shot from the wing.
Robertson, a veteran like Sowers, has shown the propensity to deliver in the clutch this season with three game-winning overtime goals, including one in last week’s quarterfinal win against Loyola.
The Blue Devils also can initiate offense from the midfield with the tandem of Nakeie Montgomery and Owen Caputo. The Terps are well aware of Montgomery’s offensive prowess as he notched a hat-trick against them in the 2018 semifinals.
“We really respect them as an offense, obviously they have a lot of weapons,” Alex Smith said. “We come to Maryland to play these games. We think of this as a great opportunity and test to see how far we’ve come as a defense.”
Maryland’s defense has ample experience against prolific offenses, matching up against the Terps’ multi-faceted offense everyday in practice.
Leading the charge against that high-octane Blue Devil offense is goalie Logan McNaney who has gained increased comfortability with each start. In recent games, McNaney has demonstrated his aggressiveness leaving the crease for several contested ground balls.
That aggressiveness is a sign of the young goalie’s growth with 16 career starts. It also has provided the Terps with some extra possessions. Gaining those extra possessions remains paramount for Saturday’s game, as possessions are the most important thing in the game of lacrosse.
“We talk about possession being so important, a tough ground ball by Logan is as good as a save,” Tillman said. “That’s as good as a faceoff win and all of those possessions in our game add up. If you really value all of those things whether it’s riding, clearing, backing up a goal or getting back on defense. There are all these little plays that we call little plays, but we value those things because we know you add those one play at a time and they become big things.”
Offensively, one of the keys for Maryland will be valuing each possession and protecting the ball. The Terps have succeeded in that area throughout the season averaging 12.29 turnovers per game, the lowest average in the nation.
However, the Blue Devils defense poses another tough challenge, led by the veteran tandem of defenseman J.T. Giles Harris and goalie Mike Adler. Giles Harris is an aggressive defender who often jumps passing lanes creating turnovers, forcing two against the Terps in the 2018 semifinal matchup.
Anchoring the Blue Devils defense, Adler has tallied 10 saves or more in seven out of the last eight games. On Saturday, the Terps’ offense will look to replicate the same unselfish approach that has brought great success this season.
Another key for Maryland offensively will be constant movement from both the attack and midfield, forcing the Blue Devils defense to continue rotating and their slides to recover quickly. Maltz figures to be a main beneficiary of that movement as Duke’s defense struggled ball watching at times against Loyola, leaving creases for cutters on the doorstep.
With a spot in the National Championship on the line, the first faceoff begins at 2:30 p.m. and the game will air on ESPN2.
“I really care about this group and I want nothing more than to be able to perform well for them on Saturday,” Brett Makar said. “I know they want to do the same thing for me and the other guys on the team.”