Cornell at Maryland: Three things to watch

Maryland has won 13 of 16 meetings in this series, but Cornell has enjoyed better success in the NCAA tournament with three wins in four games. The Terps are 7-0 at home this season and 9-1 against the Big Red in College Park; that loss occurred at home in the first round of last year’s NCAA tournament.

Cornell (11-4) opened the year with nine straight victories but has gone just 2-4 since then. The Big Red is 2-3 against teams that qualified for the NCAA tournament. An offense ranked seventh in Division I at 13.1 goals per game has been paced by senior attackman Dan Lintner, who ranks sixth in the country with 46 goals, and junior attackman Matt Donovan, who leads the team in both assists (22) and points (54).

Seventh-seeded Maryland (11-3) mirrored Cornell in winning its first seven contests of the season but limping in with a 4-3 mark in its last seven. The Terps are 4-3 against teams in this year’s NCAA tournament. Senior Niko Amato is just one of three goalkeepers in the NCAA tournament ranked in the top 10 in both goals-against average and save percentage.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday at 5 p.m.

1) Ground balls. Maryland and Cornell are two of the best teams in the nation at gobbling up loose balls. The Terps rank second with 36.1 ground balls per game, and the Big Red is just one spot behind at 36.0. Those loose balls can lead to gaining more possessions and controlling the game’s tempo. Those are two hallmarks of both teams, according to Maryland coach John Tillman. 

“I think that’s something that both programs pride themselves on,” he said. “Just like Navy last week, it’ll be hard-fought. It’s been part of their mentality for a long time there, and they do a great job with it. Obviously, it’s something that has been very important to Maryland for a long time. That’s something we’re going to have to make sure that we talk about and address and practice and make sure we do a good job with our technique. I think our guys will hustle after it. We just have to do a good job once we get there of just fundamentally being really sound.”

2) Faceoffs. Some of that success on ground balls can be traced to both team’s faceoff specialists. Maryland junior Charlie Raffa ranks 10th in the country with an average of 8.3 ground balls, while Cornell senior Doug Tesoriero is 11th at 8.2. Where they differ is in faceoff percentage -- Raffa ranks second at 67.8 percent (158-of-233) and Tesoriero is 33rd at 53.0 percent (193-of-364). Tillman, who recruited Tesoriero when the coach was at the helm at Harvard, is familiar with Tesoriero’s strengths.

“Cornell’s lacrosse program is very storied, it’s got great tradition and to be the all-time faceoff leader in that program’s history speaks volumes to what Doug has done in four years there and what the coaches have done and the wing play that he’s got,” Tillman said. “Doug’s just done a great job and certainly has gotten some great accolades and is deserving of that. … He really fights hard and does a good job of scrapping and mucking up the midfield and giving his wings an opportunity and himself a second chance opportunity. Sometimes the other guy can guess the whistle pretty well, and he continues to fight pretty hard.”

3) Offense. Maryland opened the season with at least 10 goals in its first seven games, but has since gotten to double digits in just three of its last seven contests. Senior attackman Mike Chanenchuk leads the team in both goals (28) and assists (16), but could be slowed by an ankle injury that limited him to extra-man duty in the team’s 12-6 victory over Navy a week ago. ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said the Terps appear to have enough firepower to beat Cornell even if Chanenchuk is at less than 100 percent on Saturday.

“They’re going to have to find a way,” the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. “I think we saw that when Chanenchuk was limited in the ACC semifinals [on April 25], Maryland changed. But that was two weeks ago. Maryland just had a really nice effort against Navy and [junior attackman] Jay Carlson stepped up with the nice game. So Maryland has the weapons. They just have to be empowered to be utilized. Maryland is a young team. They’re still young, and at the end of the day, look at all of the young faces on that offense. But that defense is special, and this is [senior goalkeeper Niko] Amato’s last run. So I think that defense with Raffa on faceoffs can control possessions. It’s about offensive execution for the University of Maryland.”

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