Maryland men’s lacrosse ready for rematch vs. Virginia in Final Four

#7 Maryland (10-5) vs. #6 Virginia (12-5)
When: Saturday, May 25 • 2:30 PM
Where: Lincoln Financial Field • Philadelphia, PA
TV: ESPN2 • Anish Shroff (pxp), Quint Kessenich (analyst) • Paul Carcaterra (sideline)

Maryland is set to play in its 29th Final Four and third in four years as they look for their fifth championship in program history. The next team standing in their way provides Maryland with a rematch against a familiar opponent — Virginia.

The two teams met back on March 16 as Virginia pulled out a four-goal win in College Park in a game they led for the final 50 minutes of regulation. We take a look at the matchup, while a handful of Terps were recognized again in postseason awards.

More All-American honors

This week, the United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) announced their All-American teams of the 2024 season. Zappitello was the lone unanimous first team All-American like he was for the Inside Lacrosse All-American teams. Zappitello also earned the Lt. Raymond J. Enners Outstanding Player of the Year award. Zappitello is the first close defender to win the award since 1993. Other Terps earning All-American honors were Luke Wierman and Eric Spanos. Wierman was named to the second team while Spanos earned honorable mention honors for the USILA list.

How we got here

Maryland took a two-game losing streak into the NCAA Tournament after a lackluster offensive showing to close the season. Head coach John Tillman managed to turn things around in the opening round of the tournament with a dominating 16-8 win over Princeton at home. The turnaround continued into the second weekend after Maryland pulled off a stunning upset over the second-seeded Duke Blue Devils 14-11 in the NCAA quarterfinals, giving head coach John Tillman a 10-1 record in the quarterfinal round since becoming the Terps head coach.

Virginia, like Maryland, entered the NCAA Tournament on a losing streak of their own after losing four straight dating back to April 14th. Despite being on upset alert in the first round of the tournament, Virginia bounced back for a 17-11 win over Saint Joseph’s. In the quarterfinals, Virginia defeated Johns Hopkins 11-10 in a thrilling double overtime game thanks to a game-winning goal from Connor Shellenberger, a Tewaaraton Award finalist.

Game Preview

Virginia is a team that is led by their three-headed monster at attack. Shellenberger, Payton Cormier, and McCabe Million. This season, Cormier became the NCAA’s all-time leader in goals scored in a career. Cormier is a pure finisher and scorer. Most of Cormier’s damage is done within seven yards of the goal. Shellenberger leads Virginia in points with 82 coming off 31 goals and 51 assists. The big matchup to look out for will be Ajax Zappitello on Shellenberger. Zappitello generally covers the initiator or quarterback of the opposing offense and that is what Shellenberger is for the Virginia offense. Just like last week when Zappitello shut off Zawada for Duke, the Terps will be hoping Zappitello can do the same this week with Shellenberger and make the rest of the Virginia offense beat them. The key players to look out for will be Virginia’s top two midfielders in Jack Boyden and Griffin Schutz. Boyden and Schutz are dangerous with the ball in their hands and if they can win their matchups against the Terps’ defensive midfielders, it could be a long day for the Terps defense.

Virginia’s defense enters Memorial Day weekend with a massive question of who will start in goal. Virginia’s everyday starter this season has been Matthew Nunes, but he found himself pulled yet again last week after not seeing the ball well and giving up early goals, prompting head coach Lars Tiffany to turn to backup Kyle Morris. Morris finished the day with eight saves and a save percentage of 57.1%.

Virginia’s defense is led by long stick midfielder Ben Wayer and close defender Cole Kastner. Kastner leads the team in cause turnovers with 31 while Wayer is tied for second on the team with 26. Wayer has burst onto the scene this season as one of the top long stick midfielders in the country. This season, Wayer also has 91 ground balls, while also being a very reliable threat in transition with seven goals and six assists. Kaster also has 36 ground balls to his name along with a goal scored on the season. Virginia’s defense is so good because of how physical and long they are. All of Virginia’s starting long pole defenders are 6-foot-3 or taller which helps them clog up passing lanes better than most if not all of the defenses in the country. The Terps’ offense will need to be careful and crisp with their passing this week if they want a shot at pulling off yet another upset in their NCAA tournament run.

Prediction: Maryland, 12-10

Since becoming the head coach at Maryland, John Tillman is 7-2 all-time in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament. Ever since Lars Tiffany took over as head coach at Virginia, he is 3-4 against the Terps, however, Tiffany is 2-1 against the Terps in the postseason. The series between Virginia and Maryland has been very close throughout their history. The Terps only hold a 50-47 advantage over Virginia in the all-time series. While Virginia beat the Terps 14-10 earlier this season, both teams are playing very differently from that game. I expect this to be a very close, hard fought game between two rivals with amazing coaching staffs that respect each other. Maryland’s defense has looked better than any other defense so far this tournament and with how goalie Logan McNaney has turned things around and looked in the NCAA Tournament, I think the Terps will pull off yet another upset with a 12-10 win over Virginia.

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