Three Questions for Maryland Men’s Lacrosse in 2023

Coming off its first undefeated season in the NCAA since 2006, the Terps bring back another loaded roster to attempt at defending their national championship. While there are plenty of key players returning for the Terps, there will also be new faces looking to step up this season. And when there will be new faces that will have to step up, there can be questions raised as how the team will look either similarly or different from last season. Take a look as we dive into the three biggest questions surrounding the Terps men’s lacrosse team this season.

How will the offense look in Jake Bernhardt’s first season as coordinator?

The Terps were by far the most productive offense in 2022, thanks to in large part to all the talent the Terps had on offense. However, offensive coordinator Bobby Benson, who is widely known as one of the best offensive minds in the game of lacrosse, was also a big reason for the Terps dynamic offense. This past off-season, Benson left to take the head coaching job at Providence after two strong seasons leading the Terps offense. A couple weeks later, head coach John Tillman made it a family reunion and hired former Terp and brother of the Terps defensive coordinator Jesse Bernhardt, Jake Bernhardt. Bernhardt was the offensive coordinator and the University of Vermont for five seasons helping the Catamounts to an American East championship the last two seasons. Under Bernhardt, Vermont’s offense averaged 12 goals per game in 2022 and 13.8 goals per game in 2021. With so many players gone from last season such as Anthony DeMaio, Keegan Khan, and Teewaraton winner Logan Wisnauskas, it will be safe to say the Terps offense could take some time adjusting to a new system. While the Terps offense will take a step back, I do not expect it to be a giant leap back but more of a small jump. Bernhardt might not be Bobby Benson, but coach John Tillman would not have hired him if he did not think he could get the job done. And if coach Tillman, who is one of the best coaches in the country has faith in coach Bernhardt, then you should as well.

Who will be the Terps short stick defensive midfielders this season?

Last season, the Terps had a short stick defensive midfield (SSDM) room of Roman Puglise, Bubba Fairman, Jake Higgins, and Alex Smith. But all four graduated last season and all four wound up playing professionally in the PLL as well. With all four gone, the Terps will need to find a replacement for all four spots. One player that is expected to fill one of those spots is starting safety for the Terps football team, Donte Trader. Trader was a top five recruit for lacrosse coming out of high school and came to Maryland to play both football and lacrosse. But last season, knowing he had a shot at getting a starting job on the football team, Trader opted out of playing lacrosse to try and earn that spot, which he ended up doing so. But with Trader back playing lacrosse, even though he was recruited by coach Tillman as an offensive midfielder, there is a much bigger need for a SSDM, and with his history of playing physical and playing on the defensive side of the ball, I would not be the least bit shocked if he was one of the starting SSDM come February 4th. Another option for the Terps at SSDM is Donavan Lacey. Lacey is a transfer in from Sacred Hart as a grad transfer. Last season, Lacey started 11 of 13 games and led Sacred Hart in caused turnovers with 14. Lacey was a first team All-NEC selection last season, and with his big frame and experience, look for him out there as a SSDM for the Terps this season as well and possibly an All-Big Ten selection. Chase Cope is also another choice for who can replace the four Pro SSDMs. Cope in 2021 made the switch to SSDM towards the end of the season and was going to play as one in 2022 before suffering a season ending injury in the season opener. In 2021, Cope played in 11 games including both Big Ten tournament games and the first round game against Vermont as well as the national semifinal game against Duke. Cope is coming back as a graduate student and with his experience, if he stays healthy, he can help give the Terps some depth as a SSDM this upcoming season. Another two options coach Tillman can go with at SSDM are Alex Wicks and Geordy Homes. Wicks appeared in 11 games last season as a reserve SSDM while Homes appeared in five games last season as a reserve SSDM. Both Wicks and Homes had very strong fall ball campaigns and could be used as added depth for the Terps rope unit this spring as well.

Who will be the Terps third close defender?

Last season, the Terps three close defenders were Brett Makar, Ajax Zappitello, and Matt Rahill. Rahill ended up graduating and went on to get drafted to the PLL while Makar is using his covid year to return and Zappitello is coming off an amazing sophomore year where he will look to duplicate his success. With Rahill being the only long pole to leave, it will leave an open spot for a new face to take the job. With two defenders like Makar and Zappitello, the person who steps up and becomes the third long pole could be attacked fairly often as they can be looked at as the Terps weakest link on defense. One option coach Tillman can go with is Colin Burlace. Burlace appeared in 13 games last season for the Terps. In the 13 games, Burlace caused three turnovers and picked up three ground balls as well. Burlace saw this much action as a freshman so to see his role increase as a sophomore with the loss of Rahill would not come at much of a surprise. Another two options coach Tillman could possibly go for is the two freshman AJ Larkin and George Stamos. Larkin is a former five star recruit and was ranked 17th in the entire country of the 2022 class. Larkin is 6-foot-3 and 211 pounds. His big frame is something that neither Makar or Zappitello have which can add some length to the Terps defense which can help cause more turnovers and get into the passing lanes to disrupt offenses that move the ball fast and well. Stamos however, is the opposite of Larkin. Stamos is just 6 foot, 180 pounds. Last season, Stamos was named a High School All-American causing 69 turnovers and picking up 163 ground balls as a senior. Stamos is quick and flashy which can help at keeping up with faster attackman and making ground after getting beat. But with his small stature, he is more likely to getting backed down more then a guy like Larkin. Burlace and Larkin were the two guys that played in the third close defender spot the most during the Terps fall ball scrimmages. But after the scrimmages and a month or so of practice before the first game, it is possible someone else could shine and take over that spot.

Maryland will play their first game of the season February 4th, in College Park against the defending SoCon champs, Richmond. Gametime and television info has yet to be released.

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