For the golden standard that is Maryland men’s lacrosse, last season was an anomaly. Near-perfect seasons and shoo-in Tewaaraton candidates are rarities in College Park. But even with the reigning Tewaraaton winner, Jared Bernhardt, out of the picture this season and several new and unfamiliar faces on the roster, it’s hard to rule out another historic run.
Formidable on all parts of the field last year, Maryland, the No. 2 team in the nation and home to eight All-Americans, according to Inside Lacrosse’s preseason media poll (five on USILA), once again, is nearly just as talented — if not, more — at all positions and is poised to play for another chance to be the last team standing.
With the pieces Maryland has at its disposal in 2022, along with the grit leftover from 2021, perhaps the Terps’ previous campaign has the potential to be a season that is less of an outlier and something that resembles more of a start to a positive trend.
Most of the intrigue surrounding the Terps’ new campaign revolves around the offense. Entering a promising 2022 season, Maryland has a Bernhardt-sized hole to fill if it hopes to be as productive as it was in 2021.
On the second best scoring offense in the nation, Bernhardt alone scored nearly a fourth of the team’s points last season, enroute to becoming the program’s all-time leader in points and goals. Undoubtedly, with the departure of Bernhardt, Maryland lost a program legend. With his exit comes questions of whether Maryland is capable of emulating its success of last year without an initiator and scorer of Bernhardt’s level.
“It makes it a little bit harder [for opponents to] just to go ‘okay, this is exactly what they’re doing,’” head coach John Tillman said of his roster without Bernhardt. “And we’re built to be a team that no two possessions are going to be the same. We try not to be overly scripted so people can prepare.”
Fortunately, many of Bernhardt’s most consistent running mates remain — including fellow attackman Logan Wisnauskas, who will be donning the number one jersey in 2022. Wisnauskas was Maryland’s second leading scorer last season with a relatively quiet 41 goals in comparison to Bernhardt’s 71. Much of that disparity can be attributed to his style of play. Though he isn’t nearly as flashy or spectacular as his predecessor, Wisnauskas is impressively adept at playing to his own strengths at an elite level, using his size and finding his spots to pressure defenses.
“Logan [Wisnauskas] is a pro,” Tillman said. “I’ve probably said that for most of his career … you just kind of know what you’re getting every day from him. He’s focused, he’s purposeful. He takes care of his body. He takes no shortcuts.”
Junior attackman Daniel Maltz, a pleasant surprise for Maryland and Tillman in his sophomore year, also returns to feature on the attack with likely the same role but new expectations. Maltz’ steady work at the crease, thanks to his improved build from his freshman to sophomore year, earned him 40 points and the third best shot percentage in the country (52%).
Maltz won’t be the only underclassman shouldering new, lofty expectations on the offense. Malever, the top recruit from Maryland’s previous freshman class, with a year behind the program’s best athlete, will have ample opportunity to showcase what he’s learned his freshman season with plenty of opportunities to start. The former five-star recruit claimed three Big Ten Freshman of the Week honors in 2021 and totaled 20 points off the bench.
Newcomer Keegan Khan, a Villanova graduate transfer and the Wildcats’ leading scorer last season (26 goals, 31 assists) will also have a chance to prove himself as a scorer on a team full of top-notch offensive talent.
Still, the breadth of offensive talent merely begins at the attack.
The midfield, like last year, will be one of the most feared groups of the nation on either side of the field. On offense, for another consecutive year, opponents will be tasked with guarding a combination of Anthony DeMaio, Kyle Long and Bubba Fairman, all of whom are current and former All-Americans.
The newest addition to the midfield core, Jon Donville, is also an All-American and — much like his peers in the midfield — brings a unique brand of offensive acumen. His time at Cornell, while cut short by the pandemic and the Ivy League pause, saw him total over 100 points. And with his limited undergraduate career, Donville was selected with the first overall pick in the most recent National Lacrosse League draft. He hopes to join the league after his time at Maryland.
The short stick defense, the unsung, but impressive unit of last season, looks awfully familiar as well. Roman Puglise, a fifth year returner and preseason All-American will headline the group of returners. Alex Smith and Jake Higgins, who was building on a strong season as a transfer before suffering a season ending injury with 12 ground balls in nine games, will also be returning as fifth years. Joshua Coffman, a true senior, offers a similar brand of two-way play to Puglise. Coffman showed his offensive prowess as a transition athlete last year, notching five goals to go along with his 27 ground balls and eight caused turnovers.
Much like the offense, the defense lost a stalwart in Nick Grill last season. Virtually everyone else has returned, seasoned and more familiar with each other. Senior Brett Makar will likely be assuming the role that Grill left. Along with claiming more of a leading role, Makar will likely be tasked with being the main defensive assignment on the opposing team’s best offensive player. Makar was first team All-Big Ten and ended the season with a team-best 48 ground balls.
“Nick had a big part in all of our development,” Makar said. “So, you know, losing him is definitely big for us. But I think what we learned from him is really huge. And we’re gonna take that with us going into this year.”
Matt Rahill also joins the long list of fifth year returners with his 17 caused turnovers from last season. Ajax Zappitello, much like Malever, was a heralded recruit from last season who will be taking on a larger role in year two. The former man-down specialist will likely be logging considerable minutes as a starting defenseman or long-stick midfielder, depending on how defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt would like to employ him.
The pole group is brimming with familiar, seasoned talent as well — along with an immediate impact transfer. Senior John Geppart and junior Justin Sherrer will now be coupled with Villanova graduate transfer Owen Prybylski, who’s also billed as an All-American. Prybylski also could be placed as a close defender much like his long-stick midfield teammates.
Two of the more crucial, but unsteady positions before last season, now have young, potentially long term starters. After starting every game last season and convincingly holding down the cage with an impressive 52% save percentage, Logan McNaney will be the surefire starter for 2022.
“Logan [McNaney] definitely brings something different to the table,” Makar said. “I think defensively especially, we got a lot of emotional guys to definitely get fired up … [McNaney] is kinda of like that free-spirited guy who doesn’t really get too worked up which is definitely calming for us.”
Additionally, after an equally impressive year at the faceoff X, Luke Wierman will begin the season as a starter .
Now with a more diverse, less repetitive schedule, Maryland has more of a chance to really test its ability, truly live up to its number two billing and potentially make an early bid for the number one spot. Some of the most anticipated matches include a playoff rematch at Notre Dame, a visit to Syracuse and the Crab Trophy season finale.
But the season’s most grand contest will be against Virginia, the defending national champions and the team responsible for Maryland’s lone defeat last season.
“We’ve always done a great job of scheduling the best teams from across the country,” Makar said. “You know, playing in the Big Ten, we see a lot of those teams. And then also the opponents we have out of conference, we got a lot of top competition.”
“We put together a real challenging schedule,” Tillman added. “We want to see how good we are.”
Even without Jared Bernhardt, expectations are exceedingly high for this amalgamation of fifth year returners, tenured athletes and rising stars. Offensive coordinator Bobby Benson still has options aplenty when it comes to who he wants to use and how he would like to utilize them. The same goes for Bernhardt on the defensive side.
If all goes as well as it did last year, with few injuries and setbacks. And if the Terps can maintain that even-keeled approach that made them so unique last season, this veteran squad will have the chance to make last season’s finish feel like a footnote on their journey to an NCAA title.
“It sounds like a cliche, but I love the guys,” Tillman said. “And I think anybody on our team would agree it’s just a great group to be around every day.”