Sports

THE BEST: Maryland Fights Off Cornell For NCAA Title, Cementing an All-Time Season

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04.30 Inside Lacrosse Photo: Shelley Burger

EAST HARTFORD, Conn. – Sixteen years later, another undefeated champion has emerged.

Maryland completed its 18-0 campaign to become the first unconquered team since Virginia in 2006. The Terps won 9-7 against the seventh-seeded Big Red in front of 22,184 fans at Rentschler Field on Memorial Day. Staving off a resilient Cornell squad, the Terrapins hoisted the program’s fourth title and second under head coach John Tillman, who improves to 2-5 in championship appearances at Maryland.

“By far the hardest game we had all year,” Tillman said postgame. “Just represented their school, the alums so well today. A lot to be proud of. I’ve been in that locker room. It’s really hard. There’s a lot of tears. “

Though the Terps didn’t dominate in the way they did all spring – the workmanlike way in which they muscled though the win was a reflection of their historic greatness. MRoalie Logan McNaney was instrumental in keeping Maryland in the lead with 17 saves and was named the NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player.

“We just weren’t as, I guess, good as we had been. I think it could have been fatigue, but a lot of it I think you just have to give to Cornell,” Tillman said. “And we just needed to lean on that defense and Logan and just kind of hang on because everything – guys were cramping, guys just couldn’t run, so we were throwing guys in different spots.”

Anthony DeMaio’s early sharpshooting helped him finish with four goals and one assist, Logan Wisnasuaks had a balanced two goals and two assists in his final collegiate game, and Luke Wierman overcame a difficult second quarter and won 8-of-9 face-offs in the second half and went 13-of-20 overall.

“Whether people want to say we’re the best team ever or not, we’re national champions, and that’s all that matters,” DeMaio said.

After blowing past the majority of their opponents this season, the Terps were forced to sweat out the home stretch of the game. Second-line midfielder Jack Koras, whose off-ball cuts were a fixture of Maryland’s offense all season, pulled a hamstring and was featured sparingly. First-team All-American Brett Makar took a huge hit in the semifinal vs. Princeton, a game in which fellow first-teamer SSDM Roman Puglise sustained a wrist injury but toughed it out and played solid defense in the runs he got.

In the end, turnovers and an uncharacteristically stagnant offense showed just how tired the Terps were after an even shorter turnaround than usual following a three-and-a-half hour weather delay on Saturday. A bus issue on their commute back from Columbus, Ohio, meant Maryland didn’t get back home until 3 am following their Quarterfinal win over the two-time defending champs. All factored into a languid finish to their championship Monday.

Held scoreless for nearly the final 27 minutes of the contest, it was Maryland’s defense that repelled the talented and unrelenting Big Red attack just enough to end the day with a dogpile.

“Personally I did not have any doubt. I know Brett and those D guys, Logan, the backbone of that defense, I knew they were going to come up with stops, ”DeMaio said. “Yeah, we were gassed, but we had so much faith in them.”

Though Cornell held Maryland to its lowest scoring output of the season, the top-seed’s unselfishness was on full display with all nine of their goals coming off assists.

“This group has been selfless all year,” Tillman said. “We talked about it because they do a great job individually, we wanted to make sure that everybody was involved in the offense, and we’re at our best when everybody is moving. and cutting and sharing it, and I felt for most of the game, our defensive guys were kind of synchronized the same way. ”

Still, Cornell’s intense pressure resulted in seven Maryland turnovers in both the third and fourth quarters. Cornell ended their season on a 5-0 run. John Piatelli put the ball in the back of the net with 3:48 left, but it was disallowed when he landed in the goal mouth.

Maryland got the chance to kill off more time, and Piatelli’s lone goal with 36 seconds left proved to be too little too late for Cornell.

“Just really proud of our guys,” said Cornell defenseman Gavin Adler. “We fought, and that’s our identity. Win or lose, no matter the result, would probably have cried the same way in the locker room, just knowing that our time is done regardless. That’s really what hurts the most, not really the result, just seeing guys who are going out the door. “

“They’ve fought, they’ve scrapped, they’ve clawed. They’ve gotten better every day, ”Cornell coach Connor Buczek said. “They’ve committed throughout this process, and you saw throughout the course of the day, they got better as the day went on. That was probably one of our best quarters of the year in that fourth quarter, and that was against a stellar Maryland team that deserves everything they get. ”

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In his first full season at the helm, Buczek led the Big Red to its first title game in 13 years by focusing “on the inputs and not the outputs.” As the youngest coach at the DI level at 28 years old, Buczek was always focused on going one day at a time.

“I think that’s the beauty of this thing, where I don’t think at any point in time I could have told you how good we were or how bad we were,” Buczek said. “I always just said we were getting better. We saw that out of this group. They had that mentality. They had that laser focus that even when we were 10-1, no one was content. No one was just OK with being good. Everybody wants to be great, and I think that’s truly a marker of success within our program because when you have guys like that, nothing is too small to care about. Nothing is too small to try to win. That nature brings you to opportunities like today. ”

“Huge step forward for the program,” Adler, who finished with seven groundballs and two caused turnovers. “It’s a domino effect. Now that I’ve been here, he’s been here, that’s three years a generation of players can pass on, do what it takes and show the young guys this is who we are. ”

Cornell can be proud not only of the way it finished the game, but also how it started. Ivy League Rookie of the Year CJ Kirst used a high screen on the left wing and a low-angle bouncer with his right hand to open the scoring halfway through the first quarter. Maryland responded turning stifling defense into efficient offense to answer with five straight goals.

Second-line middie Jack Brennan slashed down the lefty alley and found attackman Eric Malever circling the crease to tie it at one apiece, and despite losing the next four draws, a combination of stout defense and McNaney’s saves in net helped spur on three straight from May.

McNaney’s fifth save set up the first – a simple, yet signature, give-and-go between DeMaio and Wisnauskas, who set another program record with that helper with his 100th point of the season. Then, middie Kyle Long set up DeMaio to make it 3-1. Finally, DeMaio ripped it from the wing off a Danny Maltz feed from the crease up a man following a Hugh Kelleher cross check.

An offsides from Cornell and a quick restart allowed DeMaio’s quick pass to LSM Owen Prybylski to score a juice pole goal at 5-1. But a stellar second frame from Cornell face-off specialist Angelo Petrakis (4-of-5 that frame, but 6-of-17 overall) helped tilt the field enough to keep Cornell in it. McNaney made 10 of his 17 saves in the opening half hour.

Cornell fought back. Kirst used a rollback rip on the left wing around Brett Makar to send a missile to the top left to make it 5-2, but a 4-0 Terps’ run was too much to overcome.

Long was the spark plug running out of the box and, while speeding down the right alley, did well to skip it past the sloughed in defense to find open looks for DeMaio and Wisnauskas on the backside to end the half up 7-2.

Malever rounded the right side of GLE and fed Wisnausaks coming around a Maltz, and Maryland’s No. 1 delivered a riser into the top right corner. Wisnauskas’ final point of his Maryland career and 340th overall was an assist to Cornell transfer Jonathan Donville, and spun and scored around a couple defenders on the crease to make it 9-2.

After coming back from a knee injury for the first time in 10 games, Aiden Blake finished a Piatelli feed at 9-3 to close out the third-quarter scoring.

Cornell picked up on the right foot in the final frame, with Billy Coyle connecting with a sneaky Michael Long coming upfield from behind the net to make it a five-goal deficit 54 seconds in.

Everything was going Cornell’s way. Spencer Wirtheim rounded the left side and his skip to Kelleher for a wide open time and room made it 9-5, then Wirtheim got underneath himself to cut Maryland’s lead to three after a Wisnauskas turnover on the ensuing face.

The Big Red’s ride helped cause a couple failed clears late and a full-field shot in which Cornell backed up. McNaney made sure those mistakes weren’t fatal, though.

Unlike Maryland’s five championship losses under Tillman, they had enough in the chamber to finish the job.

“Just to see the smiles on everyone’s faces,” DeMaio said. “It’s a moment that no one can ever take back from you, and that’s what makes me go every day.”

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