The graduation of three starting attackmen from the 2017 Maryland men's lacrosse team that captured the NCAA championship was supposed to deplete this season's offense. After all, Matt Rambo, Colin Heacock and Dylan Maltz had accounted for 47 percent of the Terps' points and 41.8 percent of their goals last spring, and Rambo polished off his senior year with the school's first Tewaaraton Award.
Instead, Maryland is executing at the same level — if not better — in several key offensive categories. The offense ranks in the top 10 in Division I in scoring, shooting percentage and extra-man conversions, and senior midfielder Connor Kelly is a bona fide candidate for the Tewaaraton.
To Kelly and fellow senior midfielder Tim Rotanz, the unit's success can be traced to one person: offensive coordinator J.L. Reppert.
"I think each and every year, we have an unselfish group that is willing to work on its game — whether that's our off-hand or moving off-ball — and I think it all stems from Coach Reppert," Kelly said. "I came in with Coach Reppert my freshman year, and he was an awesome coach and helped me grow as a player so much. He's helped us out from an offensive standpoint."
Sunday's Big Ten men's lacrosse game between No. 8 Rutgers and No. 1 Maryland could have huge consequences. A Scarlet Knights win would lift them into a tie for first in the conference with the Terps, who could create some distance with their own victory.
Added Rotanz: "You've got two lines of midfield and a line of attack that have all different faces to it, and to work out the kinks and figure out how the offense is going to be run with everything that's new, he definitely had his work cut out for him. … I think he deserves all the credit in the world."
The top-ranked Terps (9-1, 2-0 Big Ten) — who welcome No. 8 Rutgers (8-3, 1-1) to Maryland Stadium for a 7 p.m. faceoff Sunday — have scored 12.4 goals per game, slightly less than last year's average of 12.5. But this spring's offense boasts a better shooting percentage and man-up offense.
The numbers are somewhat surprising considering the unit has returned only two starters in the same spots they played last season — Kelly and Rotanz. Redshirt freshman attackman Logan Wisnauskas (a Boys' Latin graduate who transferred from Syracuse), freshman midfielder Bubba Fairman and junior attackman Will Snider are first-time starters, and sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt played midfield last year.
Acclimating the new faces has been tricky, acknowledged Reppert, who hails from Baltimore and graduated from Loyola Blakefield.
"I think it's also been very enjoyable," he said. "I think the guys have been great and are willing to learn and work hard every day. Yeah, when you have Colin, Dylan, and Matt, they've been around and they know what they're doing, and that part of it is easy. In some ways, we're starting over for some of these guys. We have new faces in terms of who's playing in the games, but some of these guys have been around the program and they're doing the work throughout the week without being seen in the games. So they have some sort of idea. It has been a great challenge to try to put the pieces in the right spot."
The ability to plug in new players and still maintain a certain level of consistency is indicative of Reppert's tutelage, Big Ten Network and ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said.
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"That's also talent, but that's also coaching, and I think that speaks volumes to the trust that the players have in the coaches and vice versa," said Dixon, a former Johns Hopkins midfielder. "That's a really good system, the guys buy in, and the coaches trust the kids to execute it."
Rotanz is the only offensive player on the roster who played for former offensive coordinator Ryan Moran before he left for Loyola Maryland and was replaced by Reppert before the 2015 season. Rotanz said Reppert won over the returning players when he retained some elements of Moran's system rather than throwing them out entirely.
"He would ask guys like Bryan Cole and Joe LoCascio and Rambo and Heacock, 'What do you guys look for in this set? What's the look here? How does this play out? What was the timing?' " Rotanz said. "He had a playbook of plays from the year before and then he had his playbook, and he mixed them throughout the year. It wasn't zero to 100."
Reppert has continued to build relationships with his players, pitching in to create nicknames (The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Wisnauskas is affectionately referred to as "Groot," the extraterrestrial tree monster from the Marvel comic book series "Guardians of the Galaxy") and staying after practice to work with individuals instead of driving home to wife Jill and son Liam waiting for him in Annapolis.
"I think J.L. does a really good job of creating relationships with our players that are really founded in trust, mutual respect," said coach John Tillman, who was the offensive coordinator at Navy when Reppert was a four-year starting attackman there and hired Reppert for one season at Harvard. "I think he's the guy that will challenge the players but also in a way where it's very healthy, in a way where the kids realize that he only wants what is best for them, and he's challenging them because he wants them to reach their full potential."
What Kelly appreciates about Reppert is his willingness to listen to the players for their suggestions and to trust their instincts instead of returning to his script of plays.
"He'll come into halftime and give his two cents about what he saw from an offensive standpoint or a riding standpoint," Kelly said. "And then after he gives us his two cents, he'll ask us, 'What do you think we should run? What are you guys seeing?' He's always looking for feedback. He's never too big to think that he knows everything. He's just so awesome to work with."
Reppert's success may make him the next assistant under Tillman to leave for a head-coaching gig. But Reppert, who rose to captain in the Marine Corps, is quick to divert any attention to the players.
"They're the guys who work hard on the field and have to execute in games, and they're the ones in the battles and the cold weather and tough environments," he said. "So I think they deserve a ton of credit. As an assistant, I just try to put my head down every day and grind and take it one day at a time."
Terps’ run of success under Reppert
Since J.L. Reppert became the offensive coordinator for the 2015 season, Maryland has made progress in several key categories. Here's a look at the improvement the Terps have made in the past four years.