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Quint Kessenich’s D1 Lacrosse National Championship Preview

Cornell led Rutgers 8-3 at half time using six unassisted goals and capitalized on a pair of Rutgers giveaway goals. At 1:11pm, lightning within an eight mile radius of the stadium shut down game one. The wait began. Three hours and forty one minutes later the action resumed. The Big Red, who’s 2020 season ended abruptly with the rest of the nation, sat out 2021 with all the other Ivy League teams They weren’t going to let a lightning delay derail them. They put away the Scarlet Knights, never let NASCAR hit the gas, on their improbable trip to the finals. Cornell looks to take on Maryland on Memorial Day.

Maryland won their semifinal over Princeton to remain undefeated. On Monday, they are a 7.5 goal favorite in Vegas. They are -1450 to win outright, staggering odds. They are looking to become the first undefeated champion since 2006 Virginia. Their dominance has sparked comparisons to 1976 Cornell, 1990 Syracuse, 1997 Princeton, and 2006 Virginia squads. The comparisons are valid, but have they become a distraction? Maryland’s errant passing last game was abnormal. Their lack of bench juice was eye catching. When expectations engulf a team, performance can go wonky. Be on the lookout to see if the Terps come out hot in this D1 Lacrosse National Championship matchup.

The Terps played an extremely physical game on Saturday against Princeton. SSDM and leader Roman Puglise was injured and is game time decision for the National Championship game. John Geppert, normally an LSM shifted to shorty to relieve some of the pressure on Bubba Fairman, Jake Higgins, and Alex Smith. Fairman was outstanding on Saturday, playing his best game of the season. Maryland has superior depth and goalie Logan McNaney has been on fire in the tournament, making a season high 19 saves against the Tigers.

Cornell netminder Chayse Ierlan is also playing his best ball after an up and down regular season. His defense has done stellar work keeping opponents on the wings, forcing severe angle shots where the windows are much tighter. Defenders Gavin Adler and Jack Follows are elite groundball men, opponents rarely get second chance opportunities once the ball hits the turf.

Faceoff man Luke Wierman looms large in this matchup winning 66% on the year. Cornell counters with Angelo Petrakis, who’s hovering around 50%. Added possessions on short rest are equivalent to body punches.

A formula for a Big Red upset starts with belief and ends with possessions. The field can’t be titled in Marylands favor. Here is my laundry list for a Cornell upset.

  • Start fast – punch early and often, Be bold. You don’t win by trying to keep it close
  • Seniors lead – sophomores and freshman come of age (find an unlikely hero)
  • It must be Everybody – can’t afford a subpar day from any unit
  • Coach Connor Buczek must instill belief and add strategic adjustments (tweak zone defense, new O-set, new ride, some wrinkles but stay true to identity). Cornell’s success is tied to their refusal to bend from their structure, their DNA, their core beliefs and to be the best version of themselves
  • Win the possession battle – possessions can’t be lopsided (FO, GBS, TO’s)
  • Win the first and last minute of every quarter
  • No Maryland runs
  • No Maryland juice goals
  • No Maryland goals directly off face-offs, subs and transition
  • Make the hustle plays – gb’s, run outs, rebounds, win all 50/50’s
  • Hot goalie – Chayse Ierlan must be 58% or higher
  • Win the EMO / EMD comparison
  • Win the shooting % stat
  • Take Maryland into deep waters and see if they can swim. Make it a 60 minute game and pressure mounts for the Terps

Why is Cornell here?

41- John Piatelli
At least three points in every game this season except for @ Lehigh (2) and vs Army (2)
Regular Season: shooting 34%. NCAA Tournament: 50% (12 of 24 shooting)

22- Chase Irelan
Last 3 games: 42 Goals Allowed.  .632 Save %
Prior 3 games .475

28- Angelo Petrakis
Regular Season:  48% FO Wins
NCAA Tournament: 60% FO

15- CJ Kirst
Regular Season: 29% shooting
NCAA Tournament: 39% shooting. (11 goals on 28 shots)

Princeton made Maryland work on Saturday. Having 37 hours instead of 40 is definitely a factor as 8% less rest matters. This frequently happens to the Terps lacrosse program, who are 1-5 in D1 National Championships under coach John Tillman.

Less rest and a banged up roster means vulnerability. The officiating of faceoffs on Saturday was also odd as it seemed the referees saw something in Wierman’s alignment that didn’t pass protocol. Those early violations impacted what came next.

Is Maryland defender Brett Makar 100% healthy? He returned to action which bodes well for Terp fans. How does Maryland matchup with Michael Long, John Piatelli and CJ Kirst? Cornell is an attack driven offense. Makar would likely draw the lefty Kirst. Can MD clear effectively against a hustling Cornell attack trio?

Can Cornell win enough Faceoffs and generate midfield offense? If they can’t, it’ll be a long day. Rutgers didn’t slide well to Hugh Kelleher. Cornell’s Billy Coyle and Matt Licciardi are both jitterbugs and dangerous from the invert. Maryland plays a more buttoned up version of slide / rotate / recovery defense than Rutgers, who never seemed on the same page.

The Terps second midfield of Jack Koras, Jack Brennan and Owen Murphy with Daniel Maltz getting some runs could be a difference maker. Don’t underestimate fresh legs on Monday.

In 1971 Maryland and Cornell squared off in the first NCAA title game. In 1976 the rivals went to overtime in one of the top finals in the sports history. Iconic Big Red coach Richie Moran played at Maryland and current Marylanc Head Coach, John Tillman, is a Cornell alum. These two programs have been woven into championship fabric for 50 years.

Will it be a Maryland coronation or a Cornell upset for the ages?

Watch the D1 Lacrosse National Championship at 1:00pm Monday on ESPN. Anish Shroff, Paul Carcaterra, and I, under the guidance of producer John Kettering, have the call from Rentschler Field.