If Maryland senior midfielder Connor Kelly wins the 2018 Tewaaraton Award, given annually to college lacrosse’s most outstanding player, then his breakout performance was Saturday.
On a cold, windy day before a crowd of about 4,100 at Maryland Stadium, Kelly turned in one of the Terps’ all-time great performances, finishing with 10 points, including seven assists, in No. 2 Maryland’s 12-10 win over No. 8 Notre Dame.
It was special not just because Kelly was only the fourth player in Maryland history with 10 points in a game and the first since attackman Bob Boniello in 1979, but the points came against the Fighting Irish, who traditionally play some of the best defense in the sport.
Maryland attackman Matt Rambo won the Tewaaraton last season, but Kelly had to merit a lot of attention Saturday.
“He makes the other players around him better,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “He is like having another coach on the field. When he comes off the field, we’re asking him what does he see, what does he think? He is unselfish and it’s never about him personally. It’s about getting this offense going, getting the offense in rhythm and finding the open man.”
Kelly, a 6-foot,190-pound native of Easton, Conn., was more of a secondary finisher last season in an offense powered by Rambo and fellow attackmen Dylan Maltz and Colin Heacock.
He still scored a team-high 46 goals, the most by any midfielder in Maryland history, but this season his role is different. He traded his No. 40 jersey for No. 1, which is given annually to Maryland’s top offensive player. Last year he had only 11 assists, but this year he already has 13 goals and 16 assists.
He runs Maryland’s offensive show. A lot of teams try to give opposing defenses different looks, including attacking from behind the goal or out front from the midfield, but that usually involves different players.
Not the Terps (5-0), and certainly not Saturday.
Kelly tormented Notre Dame. He scored a couple of goals early in the game from behind goal and then went from attack to midfield. He was on the wing, but did a lot of damage from straight on.
At least when Kelly is on the wing, he is on one side of the field. But when in the middle, he can hurt you from either wide. Notre Dame slid to Kelly hard and he dumped off passes for goals.
When the Irish tried to defend him man up, Kelly crushed them. Notre Dame had no answer.
No team has in the five games Maryland has played this season.
“I just try to play off guys like Connor,” said Maryland senior midfielder Adam DiMillo, who scored two goals. “He draws a lot of attention and when that happens, you have to take advantage of that situation.”
Said Kelly: “I just kind of let the game come to me. We’ve been practicing just about every day since the fall, so I know where the guys are going to be. I don’t gamble with the passes because that’s not what we do on offense. I just have confidence in the guys I play with.”
Some of the passes Kelly makes are unbelievable. These aren’t just short ones where he drives and dumps off to a fellow attackman outside the crease like a point guard does to a power forward inside the lane for an easy layup.
Some passes are of the no-look variety, 20 to 25 yards across the field through a zone. On Saturday he darted one through two defensemen to attackman Logan Wisnauskas (Boys’ Latin) with 3:06 left to give Maryland a 12-9 lead, virtually sealing the victory.
Kelly is an excellent shooter, too. His best goal Saturday came at the end of the first half, when he dropped a bouncer about 10 yards in front of the goalie for a goal as time expired.
Maryland players left the field for the locker room in jubilation. Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan walked in shaking his head in disgust. But there was nothing he could do. Kelly was on.
“We’re trying to find ourselves offensively,” Tillman said. “We’re just starting to settle into our roles, and we have a lot of confidence in Connor. I think our guys are starting to play off him and it’s great to have a guy like Connor.”