The Maryland men's lacrosse team spent the week poring over film of Cornell's whirling dervish of an attackman Rob Pannell, but defensemen Goran Murray and Michael Ehrhardt and goalkeeper Niko Amato have something celluloid cannot match: firsthand experience.
Amato and Pannell were teammates at a tournament in Vail, Colo., last summer, and Murray played on an opposing team at the same tournament. Ehrhardt played against Pannell in Long Island, N.Y., last summer.
"I know he likes to [isolate] for himself," said Murray, a sophomore. "On the field and through his play, he shows that he's the leader of that team. I got after him during the summer. It was me and Tucker Durkin [of Johns Hopkins] versus him and Peter Baum [of Colgate], but I'm just even more excited that it's going to be me and the Maryland defense."
Added Ehrhardt, a junior: "Each player is unique, and Rob Pannell's really good. He's one of the best players in the country, and I feel like we have one of the best defenses in the country, too. If we play together, we can control them and play well against them."
That confidence will be tested when the Big Red (12-3) visit Byrd Stadium on Sunday for a first-round matchup with the sixth-seeded Terps (10-3) in the NCAA tournament. It will be the first meeting between the teams since 2000.
Pannell, a fifth-year senior, played just two games last season before breaking a bone in his left foot and sitting out the remainder of the year. But the 2011 Tewaaraton Award finalist has demonstrated again why he is one of the game's most exciting players, scoring 36 goals with 44 assists this spring.
Pannell ranks third in Division I with 5.3 points per game and fourth with 2.9 assists per game. He was named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award on Thursday.
Pannell's success did not come without some adjustments. After his foot injury sidelined him for most of last season, Pannell was sensitive about returning to Cornell and resuming his role as the offense's quarterback. He sought to be a facilitator and help his teammates, but his mindset changed when he registered one goal and three assists in the first 10:09 against Syracuse then did not post another point in a 14-13 loss to the Orange on April 10.
"We had some other guys taking the final shots, and I realized that I needed to say, 'I want the ball,' and show confidence in my teammates that we were going to get this done and assert myself a little more, especially in close games like that," Pannell said. "I think from that point, I've been working to get back to my old myself, and I think I'm getting there."
Pannell said the biggest difference in him in 2013 is his level of maturity. But there are some things that have not changed — including his hunger to win.
"Rob is a very high-profile player, and he's got a strong personality," Cornell coach Ben DeLuca said. "He's a fierce competitor, and he really doesn't have a whole lot of tolerance for guys who aren't giving 100 percent or aren't focusing as much as he thinks they can. That at times can sort of upset the apple cart, disrupt the chemistry. Rob, being a very mature young man and understanding the unique situation he was coming back into, wanted to gauge where the team was and kind of find out the dynamic."
Since that loss to Syracuse, Pannell has scored nine goals in his last three starts.
"To me, from what I've seen, I think he's [a] shoot-first [type]," Murray said. "But if he's not getting that shot, he's going to pass it. He can do everything."
CBS Sports Network analyst and former Delaware defenseman Evan Washburn thinks that Pannell is more dangerous as a feeder.
"I don't think you want to slide to him," Washburn said. "I think you make him beat you as a goal scorer. If I was [Maryland coach] John Tillman, I'd rather see Pannell have four goals and zero assists rather than two goals and five assists. I just think that Cornell is at its best when he's distributing the ball, and he does that when teams slide to him quickly. He has such a high lacrosse IQ that sliding to him quickly and staying with the double is not going to work. So I think the work needs to be done off-ball and coming up with the right matchup."
Statistics seem to support Washburn's theory. The Big Red are 10-0 when they are shooting better than 27 percent and 2-3 when shooting below that threshold.
The only number, however, that means much to the Terps is the final score, and Ehrhardt has faith in his defense's ability to contain Cornell.
"We all have trust in each other and we'll have each other's backs," he said. "And we have Niko in goal, and we know he'll bail us out if we make a mistake. We just feel that if we play together and play the right schemes that the coaches give us, we'll be able to do well. But Cornell is a very good team, and their offense is No. 2 in the country in scoring right now. So a lot of credit to them, and we respect them, and we're looking forward to playing against them."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun