The Maryland lacrosse team finds themselves in a familiar situation in the Final Four.
On Saturday, the Terrapins will look to advance to their third consecutive national title game when they take on Denver.
It’s not a huge surprise to see Maryland and Denver linking up in the semifinals. These are two of the top 10 scoring offenses in the country and there’s no shortage of playmakers on both sidelines.
Saturday’s contest will be a matchup of the 2015 national championship game, which Maryland lost by a 10-5 margin. Star attackman Matt Rambo registered two goals and an assist in the loss while Denver’s Wesley Berg burned Maryland for five goals.
The Terps fell behind to the Pioneers 2-0 early on and never were able to tie the game. Denver led by as many as five goals in the second half.
Both teams had very similar seasons with just three losses.
Denver fell to Marquette, North Carolina, and Ohio State while Maryland was able to top the Buckeyes and Tar Heels this season. The Terps did lose to Ohio State in the second meeting between the two teams this season.
Players to watch
- Matt Rambo – There’s very few times that Rambo isn’t the best player on the field. However, he’s playing at a completely different level right now. The Maryland attackman has registered 16 points (eight apiece) in two NCAA Tournament games, including four goals and four assists against Albany last weekend. Rambo is the table-setter for the Terps and his performance could determine if Maryland is playing on Memorial Day.
- Connor Kelly – Entering the 2017 season, the midfield unit was a question mark for the Terps. Bryan Cole, Henry West, and Pat Young were all gone from the 2016 team that was a goal away from a national title. This year’s group has certainly pulled their wait and then some. Connor Kelly has blossomed into one of the most dynamic midfielders in the country. He led Maryland in goals (42) and is hitting 42 percent of his shots. He can create offense on his own, but also benefits from Rambo’s precise passing ability. If Kelly is open, forget about it. Denver is really going to have to judge when they slide very closely.
- Connor Cannizzaro – The former Terp has been one of the top reasons for the Pioneers’ success in recent years. He may not possess the amount of strength that Rambo does, but he’s a dual threat that both shoot and pass with great accuracy. Cannizzaro can dodge with the best of them and is an absolute marksman. Maryland may be familiar with him, but it’ll take a huge effort to slow down Cannizzaro.
- Ethan Walker – Maryland has pretty impressive freshman in Jared Bernhardt, but Walker has been arguably the top first-year player in the country. Walkers leads the Pioneers in points (70) and is lethal when he gets an ounce of space to shoot. Walker and Cannizzaro feed off of each other so well because both are unselfish and aren’t afraid to give up the ball when the slide comes. The Terps are certainly going to have their hands full with Denver’s dynamic duo on Saturday.
Storylines to watch
- Rambo’s run to the record books – Rambo is going to go down as one of the all-time greats in College Park. With just one goal against Denver, Rambo breaks Joe Walters’ record of 153 career goals. In addition, Rambo has the opportunity to break the single-season points record of 93, which was set by Ray Altman in 1963. The Glenside, Pa. native is just 11 points away from that mark. With two games this weekend, it’s certainly possible to see Rambo shatter both records. For the amount of growth that Rambo has undergone since his freshman year, his career has been a pleasure to watch. A national title and breaking these stellar marks would be a phenomenal end to a storied career.
- Battle at the “X” – When many think of Denver, you don’t necessarily think of Cannizzaro or Walker. That’s for good reason because face-off specialist Trevor Baptiste is a Tewaaraton Award finalist and the best face-off man in the nation. Baptiste has won 75.7 percent of his draws this season and uses his large frame to be an absolute force. On the other hand, Maryland actually won 16 of the 30 face-offs against Albany this past season. The Great Danes possessed the second-best face-off man in the nation in TD Ierlan, who won 70.8 percent of his draws. Austin Henningsen struggled, but Jon Garino won 12-of-14 draws and could do more of the same against Baptiste. Extra possessions is the name of the game in lacrosse, so this could be the biggest area to watch.
- Dan Morris – In Maryland’s past two runs to the national title game, Kyle Bernlohr was a big reason for that success. It’s very much the same in 2017 with Morris manning the cage. Morris has an 8.96 goals-against-average, which is good for 16th in the country. The Dallas native has been a stone wall at times and absolutely stood on his head. In Maryland’s triple overtime win over Rutgers in the regular season, Morris was the biggest reason that the game kept going. He’s often gotten off to a rough start and put it behind him to have a great game. If Morris makes some big saves, the Terps may be playing on Memorial Day.