The defending National Champion Terrapins took the field ranked as the second-best team in the nation on Saturday afternoon, behind only the University of Virginia, who they beat 18-9 in the NCAA quarterfinals last season to send the Cavaliers packing. Long-stick midfielder John Geppert reminded everyone early of Maryland’s power.
Geppert collected a pass in his own end under two minutes into play and picked a corner on the fast break to open up the score sheet for the 2023 Terps, en route to a dominant 15-4 win.
Coming off a perfect 18-0 season and arguably the best team in college lacrosse history, USILA National Coach of the Year, John Tillman, looked to lead a new-look Terps squad back to the promised land.
Maryland lost four of their top five goal-scorers coming into the season and a combined 297 points, but none more important than 2022 Tewaaraton award winner Logan Wisnauskas, presented annually to the top college lacrosse player in the country.
“I think for us, we believe in our [new] guys… If they’re not there yet, our goal as coaches is always to try and help them be their best version of themselves,” said Tillman. “With these guys, it’s just a matter of giving them some structure, but also giving them some freedom.”
The Terps also lost First Team All-American short-stick defensive midfielder Roman Puglise, Third Team All-American midfielder Jonathan Donville, along with two Honorable Mention All-Americans in attackman Keegan Khan and midfielder Anthony DeMaio.
The supposed top returning scorer, attackman Eric Malever, is also out for the season after suffering a knee injury in the fall, throwing midfielder Kyle Long into the spotlight as the top active returning scorer on the Terps following Malever’s injury. Long, a preseason Second Team All-American went for 42 points last season; good for 6th best on the team.
Owen Murphy helps lead the Terps’ offense after collecting nine goals and an assist through Maryland’s dominant tournament run last spring.
“I think it’s just being confident in our group,” said senior midfielder Jack Brennan. “We’ve been able to build confidence together through practice and preparation.
Brennan added two assists to a loaded terps scoresheet.
With some of college lacrosse’s biggest threats out the door, Coach Tillman looked to his defense in hopes of making another final-four run, and they delivered.
Maryland’s defense shut down the Spiders, only giving up four goals on 42 shots. After allowing only 8.43 goals per game last season, good for third-best in the nation – the Terps looked just as sharp.
Defensemen Brett Makar and Ajax Zappitello, proven stars in the back end, are back for the Terps, along with Geppert roaming the midfield. Between the pipes stands Logan McNaney, another returning All-American.
Last year’s NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player looked very sharp, making 12 saves on the day and allowing just three goals before being replaced by backup graduate Teddy Dolan.
The Terps also returned potentially the most potent weapon in Division I lacrosse. First-team All-American FOGO Luke Wierman won 66 percent of the 451 faceoffs he attempted in 2022, falling only behind St. Joseph’s Zach Cole. Weirman also tallied 8 goals and 7 assists to go along with an average of 8.89 ground balls per game.
The West Chester, PA native went 12/23 from the spot, raking up nine ground balls.
Richmond held more possession than the Terps throughout the game, but Maryland capitalized on most of their opportunities, while Richmond took outside shots all afternoon.
Murphy scored four goals on nine shots and Daniel Maltz put in two with three assists to lead the way for the Maryland offense.
Maryland continued to pile it on, winning the second half, 7-3. After allowing a goal just 04:56 into play, Makar and the Terps were lights out, holding Richmond without a goal for 43:41 before the Spiders finally added another with 11:23 remaining in the game.
“We’ve all bought into having a team-oriented defense and really buy into that, and when it works, it works,” said McNaney. “I have a lot of trust in those guys in front of me, and they have trust in me too.”
Tillman took out almost every starter on both sides of the ball following the goal, giving his underclassman much-needed playing for down the stretch.
Ryan Siracusa, Kyle Long, Cayden Onagi, and Jack McDonald all added a goal to the scoresheet, while Gebbert, Daniel Kelly, and Spanos added a goal and an assist.
The Terps contained Richmond with their second team to finish out the game strong, allowing only one goal through the final nine minutes to win by 11 goals.
After a strong start to the season, No. 2 Maryland will look to continue a 19-game winning streak dating back to last spring against Loyola next Saturday.
“A lot to improve upon, especially with Loyola coming up,” said Tillman. “They’re gonna be really tough up there, they always are.”