Preston: Matt Rambo again critical to Maryland's NCAA lacrosse title hopes

Want to stop Maryland? You'll need to find a way to stop Matt Rambo.

A year ago, Maryland attackman Matt Rambo had to carry the Terps through the postseason, and he did by racking up eight goals and seven assists in four games as Maryland advanced to the NCAA Division I championship game, losing to Denver.

In 2016, Rambo's role has changed to catalyst but the results are still the same. Maryland (14-2) is the top seed in the NCAA tournament and Rambo is still the team's top scorer with 32 goals and 20 assists.

If any team is to beat Maryland, it has to stop Rambo one way or another.

"He is a powerful athlete who simply manhandled high school players with a college player's body who became a more complete player this year, a better passer," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said of the 5-foot-10, 195-pound Rambo. "In addition to being a goal scorer, he now elevates the players around him."

Quinnipiac (12-3) has the assignment of trying to stop Rambo on Sunday in first-round game at Maryland Stadium in College Park. Good luck. If the Bobcats can slow him and beat the Terps, it would be equal to the New York Jets' upset of the Colts in Super Bowl III.

Few teams have had an answer for the Rambo or the Terps.

"He's not the most athletic guy, but he's a master of angles," said Johns Hopkins associate head coach Bill Dwan. "If you come at him at the wrong angle, he can beat you easily. He's a solid dodger. He's actually comes around the goal and shoots righty some when he's obviously more of a left-handed guy.

"He's unselfish. His game is really tight. He does everything really well. He can shoot with his feet planted, he can shoot right if he has to and he has vision."

Rambo symbolizes Maryland's team. The Terps aren't pretty; they just keep grinding and grinding until they wear a team down.

There isn't a lot of finesse in Rambo's game. He doesn't dazzle anyone with his ballhandling or quickness. But because of his bulk, he has the extraordinary ability to lean into a player to gain leverage.

His shot is lethal, regardless of whether it's left-handed or right-handed. And for a player who isn't shifty, Rambo can attack from anywhere on the field, even when he inverts up top as a midfielder.

"Matt has done a really good job of maturing as a player," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "As guys evolve, you hope they mature, you hope that they round off their game on a lot of different levels. Matt has realized that he has been the focal point of a lot of defenses and he's going to attract a lot of attention.

"So, his vision, his unselfishness, his decision-making have all really improved. He is a dangerous guy. But also if you pay too much attention to him, not only will he see the inside guy, but he'll see the skip guy. His ability to do that really helps our offense."

Rambo has evolved because the talent around him has gotten better. As a freshman, he started 17 games and had 30 goals and six assists.

Last year he had 40 goals and 19 assists. But this season, more scorers have started to emerge for the Terps, like attackman Colin Heacock (36 goals, six assists) and midfielders Bryan Cole (18, 22) and Connor Kelly (24, 11).

The Terps can now go 10 offensive midfielders deep compared with just a first-line unit during the previous two seasons.

"When I first got here as a freshman, there were a lot of bigger guys who set up the offense and I was pretty much a shooter," said Rambo, a Glenside, Pa., resident. "But this year, we've got two really strong midfield lines and we have a lot of veterans.

"We don't have to count on or just put pressure on one guy, but all of us have to contribute to make this offense work. But I think I have become more of a complete player as far as feeding and getting assists."

Flashy attackmen like to score, but few go after defenders like Rambo when the other team is attempting to clear the ball. He is a stalker who takes prides in forcing turnovers.

The team has the same attitude. Maryland lost back-to-back games early in the season to Yale and Notre Dame, but has won 13 straight since.

"It's been an awesome season so far," Rambo said. "We're a team that overcomes adversity. We've overcome two losses and we've been down 6-3, 8-5, but we never give up. That's not what we're about."

Rambo has been to the final four in each of his first two seasons at Maryland. The Terps lost, 11-6, to Notre Dame in the 2014 semifinal and lost, 10-5, to Denver in last year's championship game.

Almost every Maryland lacrosse fan knows the Terps haven't won a national championship since 1975.

"Obviously, it is something we talk about, but we don't dwell on it," Rambo said. "We're motivated to win a championship, but we take it one game at a time, and that's how you have to look at it.

"It's just a matter of us putting the ball in the goal when we have opportunities, or going harder and winning those 50-50 ground balls. The game plan is there, we just have to make it happen."

That's been the story of Rambo in 2016. He's made a lot of things happen.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

twitter.com/MikePrestonSun

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