Maryland men’s lacrosse attackmen Matt Rambo and Colin Heacock have played in three Final Fours and two national title games. They’ve also notched a combined 178 career goals and 76 assists to form one of the most dynamic offensive tandems in the country.
But there’s one major accomplishment neither has earned: a national championship. This year, they hope to guide the Terps to an NCAA title victory for the first time since 1975 and cap their illustrious careers in style.
However, No. 2 Maryland must overcome setbacks in the midfield to make a deep postseason run.
“We’re further behind than we’ve been most years,” coach John Tillman said. “We’re going to have to catch up pretty fast.”
The Terps lost starting goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr, defender Matt Dunn and long pole Greg Danseglio to graduation. Plus, midfielder Lucas Gradinger stepped away from the program last week and defender Mac Pons is out indefinitely with a lower-body injury.
Even so, Maryland possesses the star power few teams can match.
Rambo and Heacock, coming off career-best seasons, are expected to provide a dangerous one-two punch up front. Rambo tallied 43 goals and 32 assists last year, and Heacock netted 42 scores and provided 12 assists.
While the players maintain a goofy friendship off the field, their intensity during preseason training has helped the Terps prepare for the upcoming campaign.
Whenever Heacock or Rambo score in practice, Heacock said they “let the defenders hear it.” If the defense gets a stop, though, they fire trash talk right back.
“[The banter] kind of loosens [the team] up a little bit,” Heacock explained. “It brings out the competitive nature in us and makes it more fun.”
Maryland boasts a nation-best seven Inside Lacrosse preseason All-Americans, including first-team All-American defensive midfielder Isaiah Davis-Allen.
Tillman called Davis-Allen one of the premier short-stick defensive midfielders in the country, and said the Springfield, Virginia, native is vital to Maryland’s success because he “is the type of guy who will do whatever the team needs,” even if his defensive-minded role isn’t glamorous.
Long pole Matt Neufeldt, an honorable mention All-American, will return from an ACL injury to play for the first time since 2015. Tillman said Neufeldt’s recent practice “looks like he’s shaken off a lot of the rust” from fall workouts.
Midfielder Connor Kelly, meanwhile, will look to build on a breakthrough sophomore campaign, during which he tallied 31 goals.
After Gradinger’s departure, though, the Terps lack midfield depth. Tillman acknowledged his second unit needs work but said the team has multiple options.
“At a program like Maryland there’s always the next guy up, and we have a lot of good young guys,” Davis-Allen added. “Guys like [midfielder Tim Rotanz] and [midfielder Wes Janeck] … will step up and probably have a big year for us.”
The Terps also need defenders to find their grooves while filling the void from graduation and Pons’ injury.
“You can’t just have those guys leave and then new guys step in at the same level,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to just try to get better every day.”
Heacock and Davis-Allen have bought into Tillman’s day-by-day mentality. When asked if this season would be a disappointment if it didn’t end in a national championship, Heacock said the players “don’t really think about things a long way down the road.”
Still, it’s difficult to ignore the previous three seasons ends.
In 2014, Notre Dame bounced Maryland in the Final Four. In 2015, Denver beat the Terps, 10-5, in the national championship game. And last season, North Carolina came back to knock off Maryland, 14-13, in overtime in the national championship.
With one more opportunity for fourth-year players to capture a title, those misses haunt the veterans.
“It’s a new year,” Davis-Allen said. “But obviously it kind of nags at you, especially with me being a senior and being here the last three years.”