Attackman Matt Rambo is one of many reasons why fans should be optimistic about the Maryland lacrosse program. (Mandatory Credit: Bosley Jarrett/InsideLacrosse)

Season Review: Why the future is bright for Maryland lacrosse

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After Saturday’s loss in the national semifinal, the Maryland men’s lacrosse team was forced to deal with the harsh reality of losing some of their most talented players and leaders.

The Terrapins will have to enter next season without the likes of goalie Niko Amato, midfielder Mike Chanenchuk, defender Michael Ehrhardt, and defender Brian Cooper. All four were drafted to the MLL, which shows how essential they were to Maryland’s success. Amato certainly will be the toughest to replace for the simple fact that he was arguably the best goalie in all of collegiate lacrosse.

While it is tough to watch these Terps leave the program, the future is extremely bright and they accomplished a great deal during their Maryland careers.

Coming into the 2014 season, the Terps were an extremely inexperienced squad. They were even dubbed as the “Baby Terps” by many because of their youth. Maryland was depending on a top-ranked recruiting class to get the job done and boy did they ever succeed.

Attackmen Matt Rambo and Connor Cannizzaro were the two freshmen that made a huge impact. Outside of Chanenchuk, there was a good amount of uncertainty about where Maryland’s offense was going to come from. 2013 points leader Kevin Cooper and Owen Blye were gone, so the youth would have to play a big role. Rambo and Cannizzaro combined for 70 points, 56 of those being goals. To put things into perspective for how crucial the young guns were, freshmen accounted for 31.4 percent of Maryland’s points.

Rambo proved his worth early on as a dynamic scoring threat. The LaSalle College High School product showed his ability to score from anywhere on the field. Whether it was 15-20 feet out or using a teammate’s pick behind the cage, Rambo put the ball past the goalie a large percentage of the time, 27 percent to be exact. The freshman’s coming out party was against Syracuse in just the third game of the season. Maryland’s first two opponents were Mount St. Mary’s and UMBC, so there wasn’t much to judge from to start the year. Rambo burst onto the national scene against the Orange with two goals and an assist in a dominating Terp victory. He also had a team-high 12 shots, proving that he was not hesitant to pull the trigger early in his collegiate career.

On the other hand, Cannizzaro had just as big a role in the Terps success. The Cazenovia High School product came in just as big a pedigree as Rambo. He was an Under Armour All-American and ranked eighth overall in InsideLacrosse’s recruiting rankings. Cannizzaro is a crafty player that uses every inch he is given in order to make a play. The freshman attackman really found his niche behind the cage in 2014. Whether it was dodging his way around the defense or darting in front of the crease, Cannizzaro was a dual-threat on the offensive end. The New York native is an extremely underrated passer, which was evident in his eight assists on the year. That total was tied for second on the team to Chanenchuk and his 23 helpers. Cannizzaro’s breakthrough game came against then-ranked #8 Virginia where he scored a pair of goals and had an assist. Now, he did record a hat trick against Villanova earlier in the year, but the Wildcats were only a six-win team in 2014. Cannizzaro’s ability to make a living behind the cage will be a huge bonus for the Terps in 2015.

The dynamic duo’s arrival in College Park couldn’t have been timed any better. With Chanenchuk and Joe Cummings being the faces of the program in recent years, Rambo and Cannizzaro appear to be the next in line. The duo will be saddled with the task of trying to bring a national championship back to Maryland.

While the likes of Chanenchuk, Rambo, and Cannizzaro got most of the acclaim for this season’s success, Maryland’s supporting cast deserves just as much credit. When Chanenchuk was battling an ankle injury late in the season, attackman Jay Carlson really stepped up his play and became a key piece for the Terps.

The St. Paul’s School product really has a knack for being around the cage. Carlson often positions himself around the crease, which leads to plenty of easy tallies and rebound chances. His presence was never more evident than in the regular season finale against Navy. Chanenchuk only appeared on the field on extra-man opportunities due to his injury. As a result, Carlson had a three-point afternoon (two goals and an assist) and seven ground balls (second on the team). Maryland is definitely going to have to lean on Carlson quite a bit in his senior campaign.

Perhaps the biggest x-factor for Maryland in 2014 was midfielder Henry West. West transferred from Cornell where he saw little playing time as a freshman.

West is a very talented outside shooter and remains calm when under duress. The former Big Red midfielder totaled 16 goals and eight assists on the season and was one of the real surprises in all of collegiate lacrosse. West didn’t garner much playing time at Cornell, so it was unclear how good he could actually be in his first season at Maryland. West had several big games as a Terp, including a three-goal, two-assist performance against Virginia and a two-goal outing in the first Notre Dame game. He is just another piece to add into the goal scoring mix for the 2015 squad.

On top of the abundance of returning depth, coach John Tillman has put together a stellar incoming recruiting class. With the impending departure of Chanenchuk and Carlson and Joe LoCascio, Tillman hit the ground running in terms of recruiting some elite midfielders. Just to put into perspective how good this class is, it consists of five Under Armour All-Americans. Among them are midfielders Adam Dimillo (Bishop Timan-St. Jude, NY), Conor Kelly (Avon Old Farms, CT), Matt Neufeldt (Culver Academy, IN), Christian Zawadzki (Smithtown West, NY), and Keegan O’Connor (Boys Latin, MD). Dimillo (#6), Kelly (#16), Zawadzki (#30), and O’Connor (#49) are all ranked in the top 50 in InsideLacrosse’s recruiting rankings.

The future is extremely bright for Maryland lacrosse despite some very big losses to the current team. The Baltimore Sun had the Terps ranked sixth overall in their top 20 preseason lacrosse poll for 2015. It’s very clear that Maryland will be young once again, but has a ton of talent and will compete. When you have a bright mind like Tillman on your sideline, anything is possible.

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Tags: Big Ten Maryland Terrapins Men's Lacrosse Matt Rambo Mike Chanenchuk Niko Amato

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