The Maryland-Duke basketball rivalry has run its course, unless there are postseason meetings between the teams. But before Maryland leaves the Atlantic Coast Conference to join the Big Ten, the two longtime rivals will meet again for one of the season's most impactful men's lacrosse contests.
The second-ranked Terrapins will host the No. 1 Blue Devils for a matchup of undefeated teams March 1 at Byrd Stadium. Maryland started the campaign with victories against Mount St. Mary's and UMBC. Head coach John Tillman's team raised its profile with a 16-8 rout of Syracuse Feb. 22 at the Carrier Dome. After knocking off the nation's then-second-ranked team during its ACC opener, the Terrapins now have an opportunity to take down top-ranked Duke.
"It's always good to get a conference win against a good team, in a very difficult place to play," Tillman said. "Now we've got the No. 1 team in the country on Saturday. We love playing at Byrd. There's a comfort level there, but that only gets you so far. Come game day, we need to play fast and make good decisions."
The Blue Devils appear capable of defending their NCAA championship. Coach John Danowski's team is 4-0 after home wins against Jacksonville, Denver, Penn and Stony Brook. Since dropping a 16-7 decision to Maryland March 2, 2013, Duke has won 18 of its last 19 games. The Blue Devils' two-season winning streak stands at nine games. Senior attackmen Jordan Wolf (10 goals, nine assists in 2014) and Josh Dionne (10 goals, two assists) lead a Duke offense that averages 13.3 goals per game.
The Terrapins will counter with a steady defensive effort, a productive attack unit and one of the game's premier faceoff specialists. The defense, led by senior Michael Ehrhardt and junior Goran Murray, has been impressive during its three starts.
The Terrapins shut down the Syracuse offense, allowing eight scores to a team that had averaged 18 goals during its two previous victories. Senior goalkeeper Niko Amato, who was named ACC Defensive Player of the Week after stopping 11 Orange shots during three quarters of action, has saved 65 percent of opponents' attempts.
On offense, the Terrapins are an effective blend of youth and experience. The story begins with faceoff specialist Charlie Raffa. A junior, Raffa has won 39 of 58 faceoffs, allowing Maryland to control the offensive tempo. Senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (seven goals, four assists) and junior attackman Jay Carlson (eight goals, one assist) are the veteran leaders for an offensive unit that averages 15.3 goals per game. They have also set an example for a talented group of young attackmen led by freshmen Matt Rambo and Connor Cannizzaro.
"Jay and Michael are pretty quiet guys off the field, but they've found a way to lead the younger guys," said Tillman, who is now in his fourth season at Maryland. "The older players have been great. We talk about how important this experience is, and about teaching the life skills."
The development of Rambo, who leads the Terrapins in scoring with nine goals and three assists, and Cannizaro (six goals, three assists) will be critical for Maryland going forward. From March 22 through April 19, the Terrapins will face North Carolina, Virginia, Robert Morris, Johns Hopkins and Notre Dame.
But Tillman said he wasn't worried about the Terrapins' readiness.
"This is a grounded team," he said. "We've emphasized how hard they have worked to be successful. We have to play that much harder and better now."