COLLEGE PARK – The last time Duke’s and Maryland’s men’s lacrosse teams met, in last year’s NCAA Final Four, the Terps denied the Blue Devils a second-straight appearance in the championship game.
But Duke head coach John Danowski said his team won’t be dwelling on that loss when his 8th ranked team (3-1) visits College Park Saturday to play the 5th ranked Terps (2-0). Nor will he be thinking about Duke’s loss to Maryland in last year’s ACC Finals.
“For us it’s such a long time ago. You go through the whole summer, you have the whole fall semester, your whole pre-season,” said Danowski, who has taken his team to the Final Four in each of his first five seasons at Duke.
Danowski doesn’t need to rile up his team before they play Maryland, he said, “because it’s an ACC game, because it is Maryland, and the rich tradition of their program, and the fact that every year Maryland is great.”
Because ACC teams play each other so often, Maryland head coach John Tillman said it’s harder to prepare to play teams like Duke than out-of-conference opponents.
“You gotta bring your A-game…We know a lot of their guys, they know our guys. You want to measure yourselves against the elite teams in the country, so we have to be ready,” Tillman said.
One elite player the Terps will have their eye on: sophomore attack Jordan Wolf.
Wolf earned All-ACC and honorable mention All-American honors during his freshman campaign. He was second on the team in points, with 31 goals and 20 assists.
His coach said there’s room for improvement, a scary thought for any defender.
“Jordan’s working really hard at becoming more of a complete player. Trying to understand the game, almost be like a chess player, thinking one, two, three moves ahead of time. While he possess tremendous athletic abilities, we’re trying to get him to become more of a game manager and a quarterback, or a point guard so to speak,” he said.
Tillman, who recruited Wolf to play at Harvard when he coached there, said it’s going to take a team effort on defense to slow him down.
“[Wolf’s a] tough guy to match up with because his speed is terrific. He can score, he can feed, and he plays really hard. We don’t rely on just one guy to play him,” he said. “We can’t keep all our focus on him or it will open up too many opportunities for everybody else and they got a lot of weapons down there.”
Duke is averaging 11.75 goals a game through four games this season. Wolf is their top scorer with nine goals and five assists, while senior midfielder Robert Rotanz and sophomore attack Josh Dionne have netted eight goals apiece.
They present the toughest challenge yet for a young Terps defense that has started the season off on the right foot.
In their first win, Maryland’s defense gave up six goals to a Hartford team coming off an NCAA Tournament appearance. In their second win, they allowed five goals against Georgetown before subbing out their best players with the game out of reach late in the fourth quarter.
Junior captain Jesse Bernhardt, a long-stick midfielder, said he loves how quickly the defensive group has come together.
“They’re doing great, I think better than people expected. They’re working well as a group down there together…Now they’re stepping up to take some leadership roles,” he said.
Terps’ Goalie Niko Amato, who boasts a 6.23 goals-against-average, 7th best in Division I this year, said that as long as the Terps stick to their game plan, they have a great shot at slowing down any offense.
“We’re really doing a good job of learning what our matchups like to do and trying to take away some of their strengths so we can put them in uncomfortable situations,” he said.
Though Maryland had a prolific offense last season, Danowski thinks the Terps have a more balanced attack this year.
“They may be better this year, offensively because they share the ball, they’re unselfish, they buy into the team plan…Every guy, when you cross the midfield line, is dangerous,” he said.
Thirteen different Terps have scored the team’s 28 goals this year, the 7th most potent offense in Division I so far.
Duke, like every Maryland opponent, needs to pay attention to All-American midfielder Curtis Holmes, who has won 72.3 percent of his face-offs this year.
“You look at them at the draw and say, ‘Man, this could be the best face-off guy we’re going to see all year.’ He’s fantastic,” Danowski said.
After last year’s run to the championship game, the Terps have to be ready for everyone’s best shot, Bernhardt said.
“[We’ve] got a target on our back,” he said.
For in-depth coverage of Maryland men’s lacrosse on game-day, tune in http://wmucsports.wordpress.com/ for at 1pm Saturday.