Maryland men’s lacrosse shares a cherished identity and a grand stage with Cornell in NCAA tournament final 

(Photo Courtesy of Maryland Athletics.)

In April, Hall of Fame midfielder Richie Moran died at the age of 85. Moran was a Maryland alumni who won the National Championship as a player in 1959, in addition to three National Championships for Cornell as a coach.

Following his death, Maryland honored the legacy of Moran with a sticker on the back of their helmet – a black circle with the letters “RM” in the middle.

As fate would have it, the end of Maryland’s magical journey is a match against Moran’s other special team – The Cornell Big Red.

“I know he’s looking down proud,” coach John Tillman said. “He impacted so many of us.”

Tillman especially had a unique bond with Moran, having him as his coach when he played lacrosse at Cornell, which left a big influence on him.

“I think there’s a lot of us that live their lives doing things, saying things, and maybe just living out the things that he emphasized,” Tillman said.

Although Tillman didn’t see the field much as a player, he saw similarities in the attitude of his old Cornell team to the attitude of the team he currently coaches.

“As a player, I was more like [goalie] Drew [Morris] than I was [goalie] Logan [McNaney] in terms of how much I did on the field, but all of us tried to help the team win in any way we could,” Tillman said. “So, to see a guy like Drew kind of embody that, that’s why when the team won the Big Ten Trophy, that’s the guy the guys wanted to get the trophy.”

In Tillman’s eyes, Morris embodied the team-first mentality that he persistently preached for.

“We talk about, a lot, that everyone in our team has a job,” Morris said. “Whatever number on the depth chart you are, like 1-50, everyone tries to do the job the best they can. In order to be successful, we just need everybody.”

In addition to Moran and Tillman, the Cornell match is a unique one for midfielder Jonathan Donville, who played for The Big Red for four years, before exercising his 5th-year option to pursue a master’s degree in journalism.

“He utilized the extra year to get a degree that was really specific to what he wanted to do for the rest of his life,” Tillman said.

Upon intensive research, he decided he wanted to go to Maryland before entering the portal.

“When I talked to the Cornell guys, they were like, ‘Listen, you have our blessing. This is what he wants to do,’” Tillman said.

Donville will close out his collegiate career against his alma mater.

“I just feel bad for [Donville] because I know he loves Cornell so much,” Tillman said. “It’s a place that he’s called home. He’s invested a lot of time there, so it’s just a strange dynamic.”

Indeed, Maryland and Cornell share connections that make for a seemingly intimate National Championship meeting. At the very least, it surely will be a contest that carries significant importance. Two hallmark institutions of men’s lacrosse will be facing off to make up for what was missed in 2021 — from a coveted title for Maryland to an opportunity to play lacrosse for Cornell. 

If Maryland were to win, it would be the first 18-game undefeated season in NCAA Tournament history. A win rewards the Terps with the sole prize they came to play for from the season’s start. A win offers the Terps a reason to finally relish their all-time experience after weeks of subdued celebrations.

Still, a win is no easy feat. The Big Red squad won’t be an easy opponent. They’re high off an electric victory over Rutgers, a game where Cornell possessed a 10-point lead for much of the second half. 

“They play with so much heart and passion, which is basically Cornell lacrosse,” Tillman said. 

As the antithesis to Maryland lacrosse, Cornell has enjoyed success thanks to its defense and ability to freeze opponents with a solid back line. Of course, Maryland will be looking to counter that with one more showing of ferocious efficiency. One more stretch of unrelenting scores. 

Because, after all, a win solidifies Maryland as the best.