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Mount St. Mary's at Maryland: Three things to watch

Teams play for 11th time with host Terps having won all prior meetings

By Edward Lee

The Baltimore Sun

10:00 AM EST, February 8, 2014

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For the second consecutive year, the Mount St. Mary's and Maryland men's lacrosse teams will open the season against each other. The Terps have won all 10 meetings in this series, outscoring the Mountaineers, 177-48.

Mount St. Mary’s, which is seeking its second season-opening win in three years, ranked 28th in scoring last spring, but graduated its entire starting attack and midfield. Returning players scored just seven of last season’s 155 goals, and coach Tom Gravante is expecting a fair share of hiccups and mistakes for a number of fresh faces making their debut in collegiate lacrosse.

Maryland, which has strung together 20 straight victories in season openers, ranked 13th in scoring, but bade farewell to two-thirds of its starting attack and two-thirds of its starting midfield. But the cupboard isn’t bare, and coach John Tillman welcomes a strong freshman class filled with six Under Armour All Americans.

Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium on Saturday at noon.

1) Minding the middle of the field. The Terps return senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (23 goals and 14 assists in 2013) and junior attackman Jay Carlson (20, 2), but the rest of the offense is a question mark. Tillman is as eager as anyone to see how the unit fares under game-type conditions, but he is leery of the players on the offensive side of the field forgetting about their defensive responsibilities, too. “Making sure that we don’t let people behind us to create offense, I think that happens in the early season,” he said. “You’re so focused on working on your offense that what sometimes gets lost is when you lose the ball, not keeping guys deep enough so that when people run off or people are worried about what they’re trying to do to score goals, people leak out behind them and they’re in transition and all of a sudden, a team gets some momentum and gets some confidence because they’ve gotten transition opportunities. So that’s something that is really important in the early season.”

2) Limiting turnovers. The inexperience on the Mountaineers offense showed in a preseason scrimmage against Richmond when the unit committed 23 turnovers. One player (whom Gravante declined to identify) finished with seven giveaways. Gravante said the poor play on offense re-emphasized the need for the coaching staff to stress playing calmly and with poise. “Our guys have to buy into execution,” he said. “We’ve said, ‘You may not get the shot you’re looking for because you may arrive early or late, just execute the play.’ That’s all we want to see because eventually, it will come. You’ll bring up the pace, and it will fall into place. We have guys that could not execute the offense because they lost their mental focus out there, and that becomes chaos, and chaos creates a turnover quickly. We had guys doing their thing instead of the right thing, and that’s because guys lost their focus. That’s experience. That’s something we anticipated.”

3) Avoiding underestimating Mount St. Mary’s. Yes, the Mountaineers are a shell of the team that visited Byrd Stadium last year, and that 23-6 rout might be repeated again on Saturday. But Tillman said Maryland – which is not as young and inexperienced as the Mountaineers – can not afford to overlook Mount St. Mary’s. “What you knew is you had a good feeling of who they were last year,” Tillman said. “That made you in certain ways a little more comfortable. Just a lot of the parts were the same although you were concerned because there were some very talented players. You kind of knew those parts and could kind of study some tendencies and maybe some trends and patterns. The downside for us this year is you’re not really sure how are they going to change. … All we can do is speculate and kind of project some of the things they might do. They might throw some things that we have not seen. That always makes coaches anxious at this time of the year. So it keeps you on guard.”