In the aftermath of the Maryland men’s lacrosse team’s loss to Denver in the 2015 NCAA Division I tournament final, the Pioneers’ whooping and hollering reverberated throughout the halls of Lincoln Financial Field. After Monday’s title game, it was the Terps’ turn to celebrate.
Maryland became the first team since the 1975 version to capture a national crown via a 9-6 win against Ohio State before an announced 28,971 at Gillette Stadium. With the victory, the 2017 squad ended a streak of nine consecutive losses in title-game appearances since 1975 and buried some imposing ghosts of the past.
“That’s why I came here, to win a national championship,” said a visibly relieved senior attackman Matt Rambo, the nation’s Most Outstanding Player and a Tewaaraton Award finalist. “I’ve come up short twice [in 2015 and 2016]. So a weight is definitely lifted off my chest. It’s the best feeling I’ve ever had in my life.”
With four fruitless trips to the championship final during Tillman’s first six years, the topic of breaking through was never far from the lips of alumni, fans and observers. But Tillman said he intentionally shielded the current group of players from that distraction.
“Certainly, we’re not going to run away and hide from that,” he said. “We haven’t. We realize it’s been a long time. We kind of embraced our paths and have drawn strength from those guys. We bring back guys all the time. Dave Saunders, one of our alums, was with us at dinner last night. So we get it. I don’t think those guys think too much about it just because we don’t bring [it] up.”
Unlike last year’s 14-13 overtime loss to North Carolina in that tournament final in which Maryland’s largest lead was two goals, the top-seeded Terps took control of Monday’s game early. After junior attackman Colin Chell (Boys’ Latin) gave the No. 3 seed Buckeyes a 2-1 lead with 5:08 left in the first quarter, Maryland finished the rest of the first half with four consecutive goals to lead 5-2 at halftime. Junior Adam DiMillo, a member of the second midfield, bookended the offense’s run with a pair of goals.
Ohio State sophomore short-stick defensive midfielder Logan Maccani opened the third quarter with a goal, but the Terps responded with a 3-0 spurt to enjoy an 8-3 lead with 10:36 left in regulation.
Still, the Buckeyes refused to go away easily. They embarked on their own 3-0 run capped by a goal from senior midfielder Johnny Pearson with 2:25 remaining and had a chance to cut the deficit to one. But freshman attackman Tre Leclaire’s shot was blocked by junior goalkeeper Dan Morris (11 saves), and junior midfielder Tim Rotanz completed his hat trick with a 30-yard shot into an empty net after Ohio State goalie Tom Carey had vacated the cage in an attempt to pressure Maryland into a turnover.
“We’ve been in those spots all year,” fifth-year senior short-stick defensive midfielder Nick Manis (Severn) said. “That’s something that we focused on — just finishing. We love it. We embrace it.”
In addition to Rotanz and DiMillo, the Terps got two goals and one assist from senior attackman Dylan Maltz. The contributions proved timely as the Buckeyes limited the top three scorers of Rambo, junior midfielder Connor Kelly and senior attackman Colin Heacock (Boys’ Latin) to a combined two goals on 20 shots and one assist.
“When the openings came, I think the guys really took advantage,” Rotanz said. “I know that Matty drew two and threw to DiMillo on the crease. I know that Dylan was dodging shorties all day and had two lefties coming around, which was huge considering he hasn’t dodged much this season. But when he has, it’s counted. It’s just all the guys, and when you’ve got guys like Matty, Colin, and Connor — the three main guys on our offense — taking so much attention, you’ve got to really focus when you get the opportunity to take it.”
Maryland held the Buckeyes scoreless in spans of 24:15 and 15:29, and their starting offense recorded a total of two goals on 14 shots and one assist. Senior defenseman Tim Muller was named the game’s Most Outstanding Player after he limited Leclaire to one goal and one assist.
“I think we just did what we always do,” said Muller, Division I’s outstanding defenseman. “We just played fundamental Maryland defense. … We didn’t try to do anything we don’t normally try to do.”
When the final horn sounded, the players mobbed Morris on one end of the field. And after the trophy presentation, the players celebrated with family members, friends and fans behind their bench. It was perhaps the one unscripted moment in a season in which the players and coaches have tried with great effort to avoid any miscues.
“We went out there today, we were playing, and we saw a lot of alums,” Heacock said. “Coming in here as freshmen, a lot of those older guys helped us and made us comfortable. So kind of what they started, it felt great just to finish it and share that moment with them and just for all the fans out there.”
Even Ohio State coach Nick Myers seemed to sense the sense of accomplishment for the Terps.
“I think our men would say they certainly brought out the best in us,” Myers said. “They’ve got a great group of men, and I know that they’ve been here a couple times, and [I am] genuinely happy for them and their achievement.”