(Photo Courtesy Maryland Athletics)
The lacrosse world descends upon Hartford, Conn., this weekend for the greatest stage in the sport: Championship Weekend. On the DI side, only four teams remain standing and bye nightfall on Monday, only one will call themselves champions to end, perhaps, the toughest and most challenging lacrosse season ever.
The No. 2 Duke Blue Devils will take on the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins in the second semifinals contest on Saturday afternoon.
How Did They Get There?
Duke took down Loyola 10-9 in overtime in the quarterfinals to punch their Championship Weekend ticket following a 16-10 defeat of High Point in the first round.
The undefeated Maryland Terrapins beat Notre Dame 14-13 in overtime in their quarterfinal matchup. Maryland took down Vermont 17-11 in the first round.
Saturday will be the 84th all-time meeting between these two with Maryland currently leading the series 62-21. Their last meeting was in the 2018 semifinals where the Blue Devils won 13-8 to advance to the national title game.
Which Team Wins In The Six-On-Six?
Both of these offenses are deep and dangerous, and have shown all season that they can strike at any time. Scoring in bunches is something both units have in common. But the question coming into this contest is which offense will thrive more in those settled, six-on-six situations come Saturday?
Grad transfer attackman Michael Sowers is the leader of the Duke offense. A prototypical X attackman who’s also dangerous from above GLE, Sowers appears to have all the tools in his toolbox. Speed, quickness, etc. In many respects, he is one of the best players we’ve seen in a while. But despite Sowers moving into sole possession of second place on the NCAA all-time scoring charts with 381 career points last game and the combined 12 points between him, Brennan O’Neill, and Joe Robertson, the Duke offense was not up to par in settled situations. And while they were still able to pull out the win, they will certainly need to clean up in that area against this Maryland defense that features Brett Makar, Nick Grill, and Mat Rahill with Logan McNaney in cage.
Led by fifth-year attackman and likely Tewaaraton favorite Jared Bernhardt, the Maryland offense can also do all sorts of damage. Relying on ball movement with a speedy Bernhardt at the helm, the Terrapins love scoring in bunches and have done so all season. Against a tough Notre Dame defense, Bernhardt put up five goals and made it look easy, while Logan Wisnauskas put up a hat trick and added an assist for four points. We know this offense has a solid and deep support system around Bernhardt, but how will they fare and attack a Duke defense that has been pretty dang good with Mike Adler anchoring things in cage while JT Giles-Harris and Kenny Brower roam the back line?
Most Intriguing Matchup
Battle at The Faceoff Dot
Just looking at the numbers, one might assume Duke freshman Jake Naso has the clear edge over Maryland’s Justin Shockey. And that might end up being the case. After all, Naso is coming off a 64% performance against Loyola and has only gone below 50% once this season as a starter whereas Shockey has been a bit more inconsistent and is coming off a 33% performance against Notre Dame. But we know, or expect, Championship Weekend to bring out the best in everyone. And that could make this battle very, very fun.
As previously stated, Naso has been pretty dominant all season and has been a catalyst for many of Duke’s quick starts this season. Shockey, on the other hand, has been pretty inconsistent at times. However, he is a guy that will strike while the iron is hot. In the first round, he went 68% against a solid Vermont faceoff man in Tommy Burke, and with the exception of last weekend has shown up and performed in some of the Terps’ biggest games this season. And both sides have more than enough options to use on the wings if they need to start relying more of the scrum or ground ball battle as their only means of coming up with the possession.
Players to Watch
Michael Sowers, Attack – The grad transfer from Princeton and Tewaaraton finalist leads the Blue Devils with 79 points (35G/44A) on the season and can cause trouble for any defense. He’s the leader of this offense and will continue that role on Saturday.
Joe Robertson, Attack – After missing 2020 with an injury, Robertson has come on strong and returned to form this season. The attackman is the Blue Devils’ second-leading scorer with 54 points off 36 goals and 18 assists and has proven to have the clutch gene.
Mike Adler, Goalie – The Saint Joseph’s grad transfer has been solid all season as the anchor to the Blue Devils’ defense. Adler has put up a 54% save percentage with 151 saves this season.
Jared Bernhardt, Attack – The likely Tewaaraton favorite has been the hardest player to stop in college lacrosse this season. The fifth-year attackman has put up 87 points off 64 goals and 23 assists to lead the Terrapins’ offense.
Nick Grill, Defense – A fifth-year defenseman, Grill has been one of the leaders and post dominate poles on the back end for the Terrapins this season. He has 18 caused turnovers and 40 ground balls, as well as an assist.
Logan McNaney, Goalie – Just like his counterpart in between the pipes for Duke. McNaney has been nothing but great for his squad all season. The sophomore has anchored a strong Maryland defense with a 51% save percentage and 140 saves.