The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (10-2) vs. Notre Dame Fighting Irish (6-5)
The Time: 7:30 p.m.
The Location: PPL Park, Chester, Pa.
The Backstory: With quite a few question marks surrounding Maryland, the Terps have answered the bell and surpassed many expectations. The “Baby Terps” now have the ACC regular season title in their back pocket in what is the final season as a member of the conference, before departing for the Big Ten.
Maryland has gotten in done with balanced scoring and an infusion of young talent. Midfielder Mike Chanenchuk leads this group and has been a constant all season. The Terps rely heavily on Chanenchuk to calm everybody down. However, the Princeton transfer isn’t alone.
Among the most impressive players in the college ranks is Cornell transfer Henry West. West has been a huge surprise for the Terps and has been playing extremely well. He has four goals in his last two games, including a pair of tallies against Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame.
The youngsters have been a huge story for the Terps. Attackmen Matt Rambo (23 goals & five assists) and Connor Cannizzaro (18 goals & six assists) are second and third on the team in scoring and have really been wise beyond their years. Rambo, a local Philadelphia product out of LaSalle College High School, can downright put the ball in the back of the cage. The 2013 Under Armour All-American Game MVP is a very instinctive player that is always in the right spots, creating numerous scoring chances for Maryland. On the other hand, Cannizzaro has really turned it on as of late. Much like West, the freshman’s coming out party was the Virginia game, where he netted a pair of goals and had an assist. One of the biggest things to like about Cannizzaro is the fact that he keeps his cool when in pressure situation. While he isn’t shy to score in the paint, the New York native also has no problem making the key pass to set up his teammates.
Flip the script and the Irish are simply fighting for their postseason lives. Notre Dame has had an up-and-down season with several games being winnable. An early blemish at home against Penn State (6-6) is the biggest knock against the Irish. Losses against Denver, Duke, and Syracuse is understandable, but certainly are games that are needed to build your resume. Maryland has victories over Duke and Syracuse, which is why the Terps have been the talk of college lacrosse for much of the season.
In order for Notre Dame to be successful, the Irish need star attackman Matt Kavanagh to lead by example. The sophomore had a tremendous game against Maryland last Saturday as he totaled six points (two goals & four assists). While the numbers will tell you, it was pretty clear that Kavanagh dealt with the Terps defensive pressure pretty well. When Maryland slid an extra defender Kavanagh’s way, he was calm under the pressure and was able to find his teammates. The biggest example of that was on Notre Dame’s first goal when he was able to feed fellow attackman Conor Doyle in front for a highlight reel goal. Heading into the Maryland game last week, Kavanagh only had nine total points (one goal & eight assists) in the previous four games. If the Irish can keep Kavanagh hot, they can present quite the problem for the Terps.
Much like Maryland, the Irish are more than just one star player. Notre Dame has a ton of depth, especially at the offensive end. When defending the Irish, opposing teams have to choose their slides wisely because Doyle, attackman John Scioscia, and midfielder Sergio Perkovic all have scored double-digit goals this season. Doyle is an incredible athlete and is definitely the Irish’s second scoring option after Kavanagh. Doyle makes his living in the paint and has a knack for completing diving goals right in front of opposing goalies. Doyle netted two goals in last Saturday’s game between the two teams and is a complete surgeon around the net.
Keys/Storylines To Watch:
1.) Battle at the “X”: Midfielder Charlie Raffa was just named the ACC’s Defensive Player of the Week and for good reason. The junior won 20-of-24 face-offs against Notre Dame last week and won 15-of-21 draws against Johns Hopkins the week prior. Raffa is an absolute wizard in the face-off circle and has the ability to make any opposing player look pedestrian. His prowess in the circle allows the Terps to get the break started right off the draw and led to Maryland scoring on their opening two possessions last week.
2.) Battle in net: Maryland has an absolute stud in between the pipes in senior goalie Niko Amato. However, Notre Dame’s Conor Kelly had an admirable job in net on Saturday, despite losing his starting job earlier in the season. Amato is one of the most talented netminders that the ACC has ever seen. The Conshocken native boasts a 7.38 goals-against-average, which ranks fifth in the nation. While Kelly doesn’t appear in the top 40 due to playing time, he played extremely well in the second half against the Terps. Kelly stopped 14 shots in net and really stymied Maryland during Notre Dame’s 4-0 run in the fourth quarter.
3.) Turnovers: Despite Maryland pulling out the win in the ACC regular season finale, turnovers were a huge issue. The Terps scored on their first two possessions, but turned the ball over on their next four trips down the field. They totaled 16 giveaways against the Irish after coughing it up 17 times against Johns Hopkins the week before. Maryland needs to be patient and try not to force things like they did against the Blue Jays. If the Terps can keep the turnovers close to single digits, they could be playing for the ACC tournament championship on Sunday afternoon in Chester.