Freshmen playing beyond their age for Maryland men's lacrosse

Mike Chanenchuk led Maryland in points with four and scored the game-winning goal with two seconds left in regulation to propel the seventh-seeded Terps to an 8-7 decision over Cornell in the first round of the NCAA tournament Saturday. But the senior attackman took great pains to single out the play of his freshman linemates in Matt Rambo and Connor Cannizzaro.

“Matt and Connor, I think they grew up for us today, and they were being leaders out there today, which was really awesome to see,” Chanenchuk said Saturday.

Maryland has relied on its rookie class all season. In addition to Rambo (29 goals and six assists) and Cannizzaro (22, 6), Isaiah Davis-Allen has joined senior Brian Cooper (Archbishop Spalding) as starting short-stick defensive midfielders, and midfielders Colin Heacock (Boys’ Latin) and Tim Rotanz, long-stick midfielder Mac Pons (Boys’ Latin) and short-stick defensive midfielder John Belz (Boys’ Latin) have contributed to the team’s 12-3 record and march to Saturday’s quarterfinal round at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y.

Among the eight teams left in the NCAA tournament, Denver leads the field with three freshmen starters. The Terps and Bryant – Maryland’s opponent at noon – are tied for second with two each.

Rambo scored three goals and Cannizzaro added two in the win against the Big Red; all five occurred in a second half in which the Terps overcame a 5-1 halftime deficit. Rambo said his teammates and coaches prodded the freshmen throughout the game.  

“During halftime and during timeouts, the coaches and the older guys always had me and Connor and some of the younger guys’ backs and said, ‘Don’t worry about it. They’re going to fall,’” Rambo said. “So I wasn’t in a rush. I wasn’t really worried about it.”

Both Rambo and Cannizzaro have experienced lulls this season. Rambo had one point or fewer in four contests of a six-game stretch in late March and April, and Cannizzaro finished with one point or less in four of his last six contests. Coach John Tillman conceded that the coaches have worried about the rookies running into the proverbial freshman wall.

“We’ve really tried to express to them that we trust them, they need to kind of let us know how they’re feeling and that it’s not bad thing to tell us when you’re worn down or feeling some fatigue,” Tillman said during his weekly conference call on Tuesday. “What we’re asking them to do is more than what they’ve done in the past athletically but also academically. Being a freshman is tough. It’s a long year. So we’ve got to keep a gauge on that, no doubt about it.”

If the freshmen hope to help the program capture its first national championship since 1975, they’re going to have to produce in three more games. But Rambo sounded confident that he and his rookie teammates would find some gas left in the tank.

“It’s a new season,” he said. “The playoffs are a new season, and Coach said to me and Connor before the game that you guys aren’t freshmen anymore. It’s time to step up, it’s time to take a bigger role, you’re a sophomore now. So yeah, I think I grew up, and we’re not really freshmen anymore. I think Connor would say the same thing.”

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