Following their 10-6 meltdown in the snow at Yale last weekend, the Maryland Terrapins came home to Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium in College Park and their outlook – if not the weather – turned a bit warmer this week. Now with two victories under their belt, the Terps welcome in their second Philadelphia-based opponent in five days when they faceoff against Drexel at 12 p.m. this Saturday.
Though overshadowed by a top-five men’s basketball upset, the men’s lacrosse Terps, now 2-1, met their second Ivy League test in a row Tuesday with an 11-7 home-opening win over previously-undefeated Penn – ranked 11th in the Nike/ Lacrosse Magazine media poll and #16 in the USILA coaches poll – and remain unbeaten in 11 meetings versus the Quakers. Now tied with Michigan for second place in the Big Ten Conference standings, Maryland (#11 USILA/#14 media) just about doubled its offensive production with season-highs in both goals and assists Tuesday. They’re now even on the year against Ivy foes including the Yale loss – their first to the Elis since 1925. That setback – which knocked the Terps out of the media top-10 for the first time in 44 weeks – was their first in the month of February under head coach John Tillman.
Drexel, which dropped from the polls this week but received votes in both, would have been Maryland’s third straight ranked opponent. The Dragons are winless in three contests this season, but two of the losses have come against top-20 opponents (Virginia and Albany). They co-occupy (with UMass) the cellar of the Colonial Athletic Conference standings. The Dragons are coming off their closest matchup thus far after a 14-11 home loss to cross-town rival Villanova Tuesday. A year ago, they went 13-5 and made the program’s first NCAA tournament appearance, bowing in the quarterfinals to Denver.
Possessing one of the five best defensive units in Division I, Maryland entered this week third in the nation in both scoring defense (allowing only 6.0 goals per game) and clear percentage (.951), led by the stellar performance of junior goaltender Kyle Bernlohr who earned the school’s first-ever Big Ten honor winning the Conference’s Defensive Player of the Week on Feb. 16. He began this week third in the nation with a .686 save percentage, and fourth in goals-against average (5.50).
The Terps have remained uncharitable on the defensive side, forcing 22 turnovers and outhustling opponents on ground balls 74 to 63 in their first three games. Freshman long-stick midfielder Matt Neufeldt leads the team with five caused turnovers – four against Penn – and has scooped three grounders while fellow pole, junior Mike McCarney, has three and five, respectively. Senior attackman Jay Carlson (St. Paul’s) trails only faceoff specialist Jon Garino Jr. and Bernlohr with seven ground balls while a pair of sophomores – short-stick defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allan (St. Stephens & St. Agnes) and Syracuse transplant attackman Dylan Maltz – have six pickups each.
The strengths for Drexel are at attack and on faceoffs with the matchup to watch Saturday being at the X. Senior Nick Saputo has won 49 of 80 draws this season. In 2014, he led the Dragons to the nation’s fifth-best faceoff take, winning 62 percent himself, while adding seven goals and five assists.
Unfortunately, this year the offense has squandered much of those extra possessions, committing 44 turnovers.
“When you get possessions you need to take care of the ball,” Drexel head coach Brian Voelker said. “We haven’t been able to do that. We have to handle the ball better, get people off of Nick, and Nick has to make better decisions with the ball. We have to play better.”
Both Drexel’s Saputo and Maryland’s senior FOGO Charlie Raffa were named to the watch list for the 2015 Tewaaraton Award Thursday night. But with Raffa nursing an arm injury, Maryland will need another strong performance from the junior Garino, who captured 14 of 22 faceoffs against Penn.
After managing only an average of seven goals in its first two games – which tied the team for 13th worst of 69 Division I teams – the Terps found their firepower Saturday. Their first ten-plus goal showing of 2015, they have now won 12 straight contests in which they’ve posted double-digits. They’re also moving the ball better, more than doubling their season assist total, which pleased Tillman.
“The ball just died in sticks on Saturday,” Tillman said about the loss at Yale. “It was one guy dodging and then the defense just settled in and we didn’t make a move. And tonight, we made the defense move a little bit more and that opened up opportunities as they got in and got out. That’s the type of team we need to be. We’re not going to be a 20-goal team, but we can be a pretty opportunistic and efficient team.”
Sophomore attackman Matt Rambo paced the team’s scorers with a hat trick, including the game-winner, and matched his career-high two assists. His six goals and four assists is tops on the season. He’s followed by junior midfielder Henry West (5g, 2a), Maltz (4g, 2a), senior middie Joe LoCascio (4g, 1a), Carlson (4g), and senior middie Bryan Cole (1g, 3a).
“It was very important to really move the ball around and share the ball,” Maltz said. “I think the chemistry within our offense is becoming really strong. We’re looking good.”
Maryland’s sharpshooters could find much twine as both Drexel goaltenders have goals-against averages of 14 or higher. Cal Winkelman took over for Will Gabrielsen for one half against Villanova Saturday but could manage only a .462 save percentage – not much better than the latter’s abysmal .390.
The one bright spot defensively is that the Dragons are a loose ball vacuum with 104 in three games this season. They were 14th in the nation in 2014, averaging 31.78 per game. After Saputo and Gabrielsen, defenseman Jake Kiernan leads with eight.
While Drexel’s offense severely misses Ben McIntosh – the top draft pick of the National Lacrosse League’s Edmonton Rush – returning two-time first-team All-CAA midfielder Ryan Belka (DeMatha) tops point scorers this season with five goals and six assists. The 2012 CAA Rookie of the Year is coming off a career-best 25 goal and 21 assist campaign last season.
Averaging a whopping 44.7 shots per game, the Dragons’ shooting percentage is an anemic .216.
Attackman Cole Shafer has seven goals and two helpers. He put up an exceptional 53 points as a redshirt freshman in 2014. Trailing him is sophomore attackman Robert Frazee (Christ Church School) with four goals and two assists, junior two-way middie Mason Pynn (4g on six shots), and junior middie Jules Raucci (2g, 1a). Freshman middie Michael Kay earned CAA Rookie of the Week with a one goal and two assist outing vs. Virginia in his debut.