Kevin Cooper and Owen Blye celebrate after a goal during the first half of the 2012 National Championship game against Loyola.
The Teams: Maryland Terrapins (10-3) vs. Cornell Big Red (12-3)
The Time: Sunday, 1:00 p.m.
The Place: Capital One Field at Byrd Stadium – College Park, MD
When the NCAA men’s lacrosse pairings were announced on Sunday evening, one immediate thought came to mind: Maryland hosting Cornell could’ve been a matchup we saw in the National Championship game in Philadelphia. Instead, we are treated to a phenomenal first round tussle between two juggernaut squads. It pits the second highest scoring offense in the country in Cornell (14.40 goals-per-game) against the fourth best scoring defense in the Terps (7.62 goals-per-game).
When anybody thinks about Cornell, the name of attacker Rob Pannell immediately comes to mind. Pannell is the all-time points leader in Ivy League history and one of the best players to ever step on a lacrosse field. The senior attacker currently ranks third in the nation with 5.33 points-per-game and is fresh off a five point performance (two goals & three assists) against Princeton in the Ivy League semifinals. The Big Red are a team that is capable of going all the way to the national title game, so it will be a tall task.
But Pannell isn’t the only member of the Big Red that is capable of doing damage. Cornell boasts six different players that have double-digit goals and have at least 20 points. Pannell and fellow attacker Steve Mock combined for a whopping 136 points (84 goals & 52 assists) between the two of them. As I mentioned above, Pannell is clearly one of the best players in the country and has a wicked shot and can get it off without even looking. As good as Pannell is, Mock is pretty good in his own right. The Huntington, Ny. native is absolutely lethal when he gets in front of the cage. Mock also can get his shot off pretty quick which doesn’t bode well for the Terps. They’ll have to react very quickly when Mock gets the ball in his stick if they want to have a chance at slowing him down.
On the other hand, Maryland is an incredibly deep team that has the balanced scoring to go deep into the tournament as well. The Terps have six players that have at least 16 goals and are led by junior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk and his 22 tallies. That is really saying something considering that Maryland lost a ton of production after last year’s departures of attacker Joe Cummings and midfielder Drew Snider. However, the likes of midfielder Kevin Cooper, Chanenchuk, and midfielder Owen Blye had remarkable seasons for the Terps and are several reasons why the team is where they are. Chanenchuk was a constant for the Terps throughout the entire season. The St. Anthony’s (NY) product recorded multi-point games in all but two games (against Mount St. Mary’s & Villanova). Even in those two contests, Chanenchuk still tallied a goal or an assist to get on the stat sheet.
Keys To Victory:
1) Niko Amato – In every facet, Maryland junior goalie Niko Amato has been absolutely superb throughout his Terps career, especially this season. Amato ranked in the top five in both goals-against average (5th, 7.42) and save percentage (3rd, 61.2%). Even when the Conshocken, Pa. native has struggled, he still manages to come up with key saves to keep his team in games. In Maryland’s ACC tournament matchup with Virginia, Amato kept his team in the game despite the offense’s struggles. After allowing a goal just 59 seconds into the game, the Terps netminder stopped the next nine shots which allowed Maryland to hang around and ultimately clawed their way back into the game late. It’s extremely impressive that Amato is able to be such a force in net. Amato only stands 5’8 but manages to defend his cage with an absolute vengeance. If the Terps goalie can get in the zone early and get some help from his strong defense, Maryland has a great shot to beat Cornell.
2) Slow down Rob Pannell – As was stated above, Pannell is an incredibly gifted athlete and has the potential to score from anywhere on the field. Only one calendar year removed from a broken foot, the New York native registered a whopping 80 points (36 goals & 44 assists) and only had two games (against Dartmouth & Syracuse) where he didn’t score multiple goals. Pannell seems to feel most at home when he is in close proximity to the cage. He scores a majority of his goals from close range but has an amazingly power shot. With a simple flick of his wrist, the ball can be in the back of the net. As good as Amato has been in net for Maryland, he’s going to need help from all of his defenders if the Terps want to stop a guy like Pannell.