No. 2 Maryland men’s lacrosse lost four key scorers and two key defenders from last year’s squad — who were responsible for just more than 50 percent of its goals scored and 20 percent of its caused turnovers — but it looked like a complete and utterly dominant team in its season opener.
The Terps controlled the entirety of their opener against No. 19 Richmond, and won by 11 points as a result. Senior attacker Daniel Maltz and junior attacker Owen Murphy led the show on the offensive end, while graduate student defender Brett Makar and junior defender Ajax Zappitello starred on defense.
Makar’s four caused turnovers and five recovered ground balls against Richmond led him to being named the Big Ten Defensive Player of the Week.
“With the way we play, I give our older guys credit,” coach John Tillman said. “We are very much a system, and we do rely on everybody being involved and everybody being on the same page.”
Ten Terps registered at least two shots in their season opener, highlighted by veterans Murphy and Maltz. But they are just two of the many experienced Terps to help guide the fresh faces as the season progresses.
“On [the offensive] side there’s a lot of experience — Jack Brennan’s done an awesome job stepping into a leadership role, Kyle Long, Daniel Kelly, Owen Murphy — guys that have played in big games,” Makar said.
Makar is the indisputable leader of the Maryland defense, evidenced by his donning of the No. 1 jersey. Alongside him as an anchor on the defensive side is junior Ajax Zappitello, a USA Lacrosse Preseason Second Team All-American.
But it wasn’t just the upperclassmen that ushered the Terps to victory.
Sophomore attacker Eric Spanos — who redshirted last season — and freshman attacker Braden Erksa played key roles off of the bench in their first ever collegiate games. Erksa scored on both of his shot attempts along with an assist, leading to a Big Ten Freshman of the Week honor. Spanos scored on his lone shot attempt and registered an assist as well.
“Spanos has been doing really well,” Tillman said. “Last year he played against our top defense all year long … I really feel like he’s made a lot of progress.”
A transfer from Harford Community College, junior attacker/midfielder Cayden Onagi made an instant impact in his first game in a Maryland uniform.
Getting plenty of playing time with the result all but decided midway through the fourth quarter, Onagi — on a running start — snagged a pass from sophomore Zach Whittier at the Big Ten logo 15 yards from the goal. Onagi took a few steps forward before firing a sidearm underhand shot off of the post into the back of the net, showcasing his ability to score even when defended tightly.
Like in Maryland’s attack, its defense had some young guns taking advantage of the open playing time.
Sophomore defender Colin Burlace played sparingly as a freshman a season ago, but will have more of an impact this season following the graduations of Bubba Fairman and Matt Rahill. In the season opener, Burlace caused a turnover and scooped up a ground ball, chipping in to the Terps’ excellent defensive performance.
“Colin’s got a really good stick — he could push the ball in transition, he makes really good decisions in the clearing game — and he’s physical,” Tillman said.
Although nothing shows up on the stat sheet, another young Terp who impressed Tillman in the season opener was freshman long stick midfielder Will Schaller. Ranked as the No. 8 overall recruit and the No. 1 long stick midfielder by Inside Lacrosse in the Class of 2022, Schaller “will continue to push for playing time,” according to Tillman.
On both sides of the ball, Maryland features both veterans and unproven players that are going to play pivotal roles in its success this year. The key to victory as the season goes on is to find a similar blend to the one the Terps had in the season opener.
The next test for the Terps is their first road game of the season, taking on Loyola Saturday.