If there’s standard operating procedure for teams in the NCAA men’s lacrosse tournament, it’s that a quarterfinal victory is worthy of a raucous celebration in acknowledgment of reaching the season’s final weekend.
“I think we all have an end goal in mind here, and we’re taking it day by day,” midfielder Anthony DeMaio said. “There’s one big celebration, and we’re not there yet, and I think we all know what the job is and we have to finish that job.”
Owen Murphy scored four goals, DeMaio and Logan Wisnauskas had three goals and two assists apiece and Logan McNaney matched a season high with 14 saves for the Terps (16-0), who will meet fifth-seeded Princeton (11-4) in Saturday’s NCAA semifinals in East Hartford, Conn.
Maryland has won 33 of its past 34 games. The lone loss in that span was a 17-16 loss to Virginia in the 2021 national title game.
Jeff Conner had three goals and an assist for the unseeded Cavaliers (12-4), who had won their previous five NCAA tournament games against the Terps.
“We recognize that last year’s national championship game was the impetus for Maryland to take their team to the next level,” Virginia Coach Lars Tiffany said. “Now it’s our turn. Watch this team. Study this team. Learn from this, so we come back in 2023 at a different level.”
Maryland obviously didn’t want to replicate its previous two postseason games against Virginia, one-goal losses in the 2019 quarterfinals and last year’s title game. Instead, the Terps largely succeeded in making Sunday a carbon copy of their 23-12 rout of the Cavaliers on March 19 at Audi Field.
Everything Maryland did that afternoon, it repeated Sunday. The Terps dominated possession thanks to Luke Wierman, who won 20 of 29 faceoffs while largely contending with Virginia’s Petey LaSalla. They never let the Cavaliers get on a run; Virginia’s only back-to-back goals came after Maryland had built a 15-5 lead.
Then there were the unsettled goals, including a pair involving defensive midfielder Roman Puglise exploiting a weakness in the substitution game. In the first half, he faked running off, then assisted on a Jonathan Donville goal. In the second, Puglise did the same thing and deposited a goal of his own.
“What Roman did was more Roman being a veteran guy because he was involved in a couple of those,” Tillman said. “I think that was Roman being crafty and experienced.”
As much as Maryland peppered goalie Matthew Nunes (11 saves) and the rest of the Virginia defense, the Terps also locked down the Cavaliers’ top offensive players.
Matt Moore had a goal and an assist in his final college game while marked by Brett Makar, and Payton Cormier scored twice (but on only three shots). But the crowning defensive feat was the work Ajax Zappitello did on Connor Shellenberger, a Tewaaraton Award finalist and the most outstanding player of last year’s tournament.
This time, the redshirt sophomore was held scoreless on five shots, with Zappitello attached to him throughout. It was the first time in 34 career college games that Shellenberger was held without a point.
And with that, the Cavaliers’ lengthy run as champions — with two titles sandwiched around the short-circuited pandemic season — is over. Tiffany was under no illusions as to why.
He delved into a conversation that became common as this season progressed: Where will Maryland rank among the all-time great teams if it completes a perfect season? Tiffany mentioned 1990 Syracuse, which featured Gary and Paul Gait as seniors, and 2006 Virginia, which went 17-0 and remains the sport’s last undefeated champion.
With two more victories, Maryland could join that group.
“I think the Maryland Terrapins ... belong in that upper, upper echelon,” Tiffany said. “There just isn’t a weakness.”
About the only thing that went poorly for the Terps on Sunday was the 1-0 deficit they faced. It was only the fourth game they have trailed in and the first since an April 16 defeat of Ohio State. That situation was rectified quickly. Maryland led 4-1 after a quarter and 9-4 by halftime.
By the middle of the third quarter, it was clear Maryland would collect another victory. But the Terps aren’t ready to savor anything — not yet.
“Last year is last year, and that’s all in the past,” Zappitello said. “We’re just focused on the present right now, just keeping our heads on. We all have one end goal, and we just have to finish the job.”