Quinnipiac, the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference champion, and Maryland, the Big Ten Conference winner, have never met. The Bobcats, who are riding a nine-game winning streak, are playing in their first NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament. The Terps, who have won a school-record 13 straight games, are making their 39th overall appearance in the postseason and 14th in a row.
Quinnipiac (12-3) collected the program's first NCAA tournament win after defeating Hartford, 14-9, in Wednesday's play-in game. An offense that has scored 10.6 goals per game has been driven by a pair of attackmen. Senior Ryan Keenan (32 goals and 18 assists) and sophomore Brian Feldman (35, 5) are two of only eight players in the school's Division I history to have 30 goals in a single season.
Maryland (14-2) is the top seed in the NCAA tournament for the sixth time overall, but the first since 1987. Goalkeeper Kyle Bernlohr has anchored a defense that is tied for eighth in the country at 7.9 goals per game. The redshirt senior ranks sixth in goals-against average (7.71) and 17th in save percentage (.542).
Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Maryland Stadium in College Park on Sunday at 12:30 p.m.
1) Quinnipiac on faceoffs. Prior to the 2015 season, Will Vitelli was a walk-on who had never taken a faceoff. In 2016, the sophomore has won 56.5 percent of his draws (147-of-260) and earned MAAC Faceoff Specialist of the Year honors. Maryland is working freshman Austin Henningsen (61.7 percent on 108-of-175) back into the rotation after he missed four consecutive games because of a leg injury and can call on freshman Will Bonaparte (45.3 percent on 68-of-150), senior Andrew Walsh (40.0 percent on 8-of-20) and freshman Curtis Corley (33.3 percent on 4-of-12). But how that group fares against Vitelli has piqued the interest of Terps coach John Tillman.
"We're going over what the guy from Quinnipiac does," he said. "He was the Specialist of the Year in his conference. … They didn't do well in the first half [against Hartford], but I think they won a lot more in the second half. So that kid made some good adjustments. He's had a good year, he's a strong kid, he's done a pretty good job. So we've got to make sure that not only our faceoff guys, but that our wing guys get prepped up."
2) Quinnipiac on offense. In addition to the aforementioned Keenan and Feldman, the Bobcats have unearthed a pair of midfield threats in freshman Foster Cuomo (21 goals, 11 assists) and senior Connor Meth (13, 10) and a third attackman in junior Drew D'Antonio (14G, 9A). Although Quinnipiac might not have the flash that other teams in the tournament field boast, Tillman said the unit is a steady group that usually doesn't shoot itself in the foot.
"They are buttoned up, they are very disciplined, they are very organized, they don't beat themselves, and they just seem to have a very good idea of who they are," he said. "… I like the way they play on offense. They don't turn the ball over, they generate good shots, they have a nice mix of youth and experience, and there are guys on that team that we'd love to have in our locker room, for sure."
3) Quinnipiac on defense. While Maryland is ranked in the Top 10 in fewest goals allowed per game, the Bobcats aren't that far behind, ranking 12th with an 8.4 average. The unit has been backstopped by junior goalie Jack Brust (Calvert Hall), who ranks 12th in goals-against average (8.37), second in save percentage (.588) and seventh in saves per game (11.8). Named the MAAC tournament's Most Outstanding Player after making 31 saves against just 16 goals allowed, Brust's size (6 feet and 230 pounds) is a concern for Tillman.
"He's a big guy, and when you get to the lower levels, there's not a lot to shoot at," he said of Brust. "We talked about being smart with our shot locations because if you take low-angled shots, there's just not much to shoot at. So we've got to be disciplined enough to say, 'Yeah, it's a shot, but against a bigger goalie, if we just take shots for the sake of taking shots and it hits him, it's not going in, and it becomes a turnover.' So we've got to make sure that we don't take the first average shot. If it's a good one, we'll certainly take it, but we've got to make sure it's a shot that has a good chance of going in."