When the University of Maryland men's lacrosse team began its NCAA tournament run with a come-from-behind 8-7 victory against visiting Cornell May 10, a national quarterfinal rematch with Syracuse -- a team the Terrapins had beaten, 16-8, Feb. 22 -- seemed likely. But during an NCAA tournament filled with first-round upsets, the second-seeded Orange suffered a 10-9 loss to unseeded Bryant May 11.
With Syracuse out of the picture, coach John Tillman's Maryland squad is preparing for an upstart Bryant program that it hasn't faced since March 2009, when the Terrapins prevailed by a 13-6 score in College Park. The seventh-seeded Terrapins, who raised their record to 12-3 with their first-round victory, will face Bryant during the NCAA quarterfinals at noon May 17 at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y. The winner will advance to the NCAA semifinals, set for May 24 at Baltimore's M&T Bank Stadium.
After reaching the NCAA championship game in 2011 and 2012, Maryland lost to Cornell during the first round of the 2013 tournament. The Terrapins bounced back this season, winning their first seven games and earning the nation's top ranking March 2. But Maryland has gone 5-3 after its 7-0 start, suffering its first defeat March 22 at North Carolina. The Terrapins also lost to Johns Hopkins April 12 and to Notre Dame April 25 during the opening round of the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Maryland must beat the Bulldogs, one of the four unseeded teams that have reached this year's NCAA quarterfinals, to sustain its bid for the school's first national championship since 1975.
"Everybody is talking about Bryant, and deservedly so," said Tillman, who is in his fourth season as Maryland's head coach. "They're really built to win at this time of the year. They've beaten two teams who are in the final eight. And when you hold Syracuse to single-digit goals in the Carrier Dome, you're doing something right. We have a lot of work to do to be ready for one of the hottest teams in the nation."
Senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk has been the Terrapins' primary offensive threat all season. Despite being slowed by an ankle injury suffered April 25 against Notre Dame, Chanenchuk leads Maryland in goals (30) and assists (18). He scored the game-winning goal with two seconds remaining against Cornell.
"It seems like he's doing pretty well," Tillman said. "We have to be sensitive to the wear and tear at this time of the season."
The Terrapins also have a trio of talented attackmen in freshman Matt Rambo (29 goals, six assists), freshman Connor Cannizzaro (22, six) and junior Jay Carlson (22, five). Senior goalkeeper Niko Amato is one of the nation's best, allowing 7.17 goals per outing.
Testing Amato and company will be a Bryant squad that enters the NCAA quarterfinals on a roll. The Bulldogs are the Northeast Conference champions and have won five straight and 14 of their last 16 games. They are 16-4 overall and 2-0 in the NCAA tournament, with one-goal wins against Siena and Syracuse. Coach Mike Pressler's team also owns victories against NCAA quarterfinalists Drexel and Albany.
The Bulldogs feature a potent attack, led by sophomore Shane Morrell (42 goals, 17 assists) and freshman Tucker James (30, 20). Senior midfielders Colin Dunster and Alex Zomerfeld have combined for 51 goals and 35 assists. Sophomore goalkeeper Gunnar Waldt had 13 saves at Syracuse. Waldt has stopped 61 percent of opponents' shots, while allowing 7.52 goals per game.
The outcome may come down to the battle between two of the nation's premier faceoff specialists, Maryland's Charlie Raffa and Bryant's Kevin Massa. Raffa has been crucial to the Terrapins' success, winning 68 percent of his faceoff attempts. Bryant counters with Massa, who has prevailed 71 percent of the time.
"When you have the No. 1 faceoff guy in the country and you have the No. 1 goalie, you have a chance in every game," Tillman said of Bryant. "We won't take anything for granted."