After an undefeated regular season winning both the Big Ten regular season title and tournament championship, Maryland (12-0, B1G) will look to carry its success to a National Championship on Memorial Day weekend.
That postseason journey starts Sunday as the Terps host Vermont (9-4, America East), the America East Conference Champions. The Catamounts have no shortage of Maryland ties with head coach Chris Feifs and assistant coach Jake Bernhardt, both former Terps.
Despite the familiarity with the Catamounts’ coaching staff, Sunday marks the first time this season the Terps will play an opponent outside of the Big Ten. Playing competition from outside the Big Ten, presents an added challenge from a preparation standpoint, but also a sense of excitement.
When looking at Vermont, its success starts with sophomore faceoff specialist Tommy Burke who has developed into one of the best in the country at his position. Burke has won 72 percent of his faceoffs, which is third best in the nation. He has also won 229 faceoffs on the season, which is the largest number in the country.
Faceoffs have represented an area of progression for the Terps this season as both Luke Wierman and Justin Shockey have formed a formidable one-two punch.
Head coach John Tillman and his staff have been riding the hot hand at the faceoff X, as both players took reps in Maryland’s most recent victory over Johns Hopkins. Each employing a unique style, Wierman and Shockey’s success at the X on Sunday will be pivotal for Maryland.
Faceoffs equal possessions in lacrosse, which are the most important thing for a team to have, particularly in an elimination game. Potentially utilizing both Shockey and Wierman allows the Terps to provide Burke with a different look if he gets into a rhythm like he has so often this season.
“I thought having two guys that we could rely on and utilize in both those games last week, it was really important,” Tillman said. “It’s nice because if somebody does go down is tired or maybe the other guy stylistically gives us some problems, it’s just nice to have a different guy to go to.”
While Burke does an excellent job giving the Catamounts possession, they have a prolific offense featuring a heavy Canadian presence. Canadians have a distinct playing style compared to most of the players from the U.S. that the Terps have faced so far this season.
Offensively, midfielder Thomas McConvey and attackman Michael McCormack are the tone setters with 33 and 32 goals respectively, showcasing the ability to shoot from distance with their size and strength.
Not afraid to play methodically on offense using the entire shot clock, the attack tandem of Liam Limoges and David Closterman are two of the Catamounts’ most well-balanced offensive threats.
Closterman and Limoges have 20 and 15 assists respectively, in addition to their combined 51 goals. Despite the Catamounts methodical offensive style compounded by impressive size and strength, the Terps remain focused on sticking to their principles and playing Maryland defense.
“They’re definitely going to have long possessions and try to grind us down, but I don’t think we’re going to focus on anything besides playing Maryland defense,” defender Matt Rahill said. “That’s what we’ve tried to harp on all year, just play our game and do what we do best.”
The anchor of that Maryland defense is sophomore goalie Logan McNaney, who’s seemingly become more confident with each game this season. Normally quiet and reserved with his emotions, McNaney noticeably expressed some excitement after several big saves in the second half of the Big Ten Championship.
That heightened sense of emotion directed towards Maryland’s sideline energized the bench. The players on the field often feed off the subsequent energy from the bench, which becomes increasingly important with every game win or go home for the remainder of the season.
“During the Big Ten Tournament and throughout the season our bench has done a great job of feeding us energy, we build off of that,” McNaney said. “I think getting those guys hyped up it gets everybody else hyped up and just provides us with a lot of energy.”
Maryland’s 18th straight NCAA Tournament appearance begins at 2:30 p.m. Sunday at Capital One Field and the game will air on ESPNU.