Maryland men’s lacrosse prepares for a NCAA Tournament rematch against Virginia

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

Maryland men’s lacrosse is on the verge of history. No national champion has ever gone 18 or more games without a loss – and the Terps are just three games away from becoming the first.

First, though, they have to vanquish a familiar foe in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament.

Maryland’s last loss came to Virginia in the 2021 National Championship, falling one goal short of perfection in a, 17-16, defeat. 

To start the next season, head coach John Tillman posted a screenshot of the championship score in the team’s locker room. The loss was used as fuel for the Terps’ historic 2022 campaign.

The two teams meet in the NCAA tournament again one year later and, though some things differ, the picture is fairly similar. Maryland is, once again, the heralded and undefeated side, as Virginia is the lower-ranked unit with sights on a legendary dynasty. Time will tell if history repeats itself.

Maryland did, however, get their championship revenge earlier in the regular season, as the nation’s top two teams faced off in a special neutral-site matchup at Audi Field in Washington DC. A strong fourth quarter cemented Maryland as the top team in the nation on a 23-12 scoreline. 

Tillman, always reluctant, expects a closer matchup this time around.

“[Virginia is a] different team than we saw earlier in the year,” Tillman said. “I know they had some guys that were hobbling and some guys nursing some injuries.”

Tillman also expects the Cavaliers to play with more motivation.

“For a team that just won the National Championship, getting sent on the road – It didn’t seem like that sat very well with them,” Tillman said.

Tillman’s players share a similar outlook.

“I think a lot of people kind of forgot how good they actually are,” defender Matt Rahill said. “So, [we] definitely can’t take them lightly.”

With this in mind, the game might be a battle of energy.

“One of the things that we preached all week is they can’t be more excited than us,” defender Brett Makar said. “They do a great job of kind of creating chaos. I told our guys, it’s almost like you get a moth in a glass jar and things [are] just bouncing around. That’s kind of the way they play.”

Indeed, matching energy is crucial as they dig deeper in the postseason, because jaw-dropping statistics have been a constant in 2022.

While sharing similar success and many players from last season, The Terps have found a way to perform even better than they had the year prior, scoring 2.5 more goals per game while defensively allowing one less goal a game. They also saw their faceoff win percentage jump from .477 in 2021 to .633.

Improved stats from last year, along with a strong chance to finish with a perfect record, suggest the idea that this team could go down as one of the best ever. But the team remains focused on the ultimate goal.

“Our leaders do a great job of kind of standing with us, keeping our mindset on the team,” goalie Logan McNaney said. “Instead of looking at all that stuff that’s going [on] outside. Good things, bad things, we just stick to ourselves.”

That hasn’t stopped the idea of lacrosse immortality from being brought up. But, when the team’s legacy was mentioned, Makar shared a different perspective.

“I think people are going to remember this team regardless, just in terms of the way we carried ourselves,” Makar said. 

Maryland’s success, to Makar, can be defined by the team’s tight-knit chemistry.

“I can’t speak on what it’s like in any other locker room across the country,” Makar said. “But, I know for me, the experience I’ve had here is one-of-a-kind and something that I probably won’t ever feel again for the rest of my life.”