Maryland senior midfielder Connor Kelly is the latest in a long line of successful players who have worn the No. 1 jersey for the Terps.
Maryland senior midfielder Connor Kelly is the latest in a long line of successful players who have worn the No. 1 jersey for the Terps. (Karl Merton Ferron / Baltimore Sun)

Numbers carry a certain weight in sports, especially when it comes to the ones stitched onto jerseys.

The number 23 will forever be associated with former Chicago Bull and Hall of Fame basketball superstar Michael Jordan. Former Brooklyn Dodger and Hall of Fame baseball pioneer Jackie Robinson’s No. 42 is so revered that Major League Baseball retired it in 1997. And former Edmonton Oiler and Hall of Fame great Wayne Gretzky’s iconic 99 jersey got similar treatment in 2000 from the National Hockey League.

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The No. 1 jersey for the Maryland men’s lacrosse team has not reached that stratosphere yet, but it has begun to build a certain legacy thanks to the recent series of players who wore it.

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From attackman Andrew Whipple in the mid-1990s to senior midfielder Connor Kelly of present day, the No. 1 jersey has been assigned to the player who embodies performance and leadership on the offensive side of the field.

“I think it’s a pretty cool and unique tradition,” said attackman Mike Mollot, who wore the jersey from 1999 to 2003. “I think it says something when we’ve had seven or eight guys in a row with pretty strong careers wearing No. 1. So I think it’s a challenge, and I think it’s a cool and unique thing for these kids to take that challenge on.”

The past seven Terps who wore No. 1 have combined for 18 All-America honors (five first-team), one Tewaaraton Award, 12 Final Four appearances, eight NCAA tournament finals and one national championship. And all seven are among the top 31 in program history in career points.

The recent tradition of the No. 1 jersey began with Whipple, an attackman from Rochester, N.Y., who recalled that he wore No. 16 at Irondequoit High.

“I just kind of chose it not for any real reason, to be honest with you,” he said. “I was just hoping for an opportunity to start as a freshman, which I did which was obviously a great experience. … I just said, ‘I’m going to be No. 1.’ ”

After Whipple graduated in 1998 eighth in career points at Maryland, Mollot — from Holbrook, N.Y. — selected No. 1 because of Whipple’s reputation among his New York peers.

“At that time, there was a list of the jerseys available, and I thought, ‘Why not try to live up to the reputation that Whipple created with that No. 1 jersey?’ ” Mollot said. “We had similar styles of play and we were both from New York. So I thought it would be pretty cool to wear his number.”

After Mollot’s departure, attackman Joe Walters ditched the No. 15 jersey he wore as a freshman in 2003 and switched to No. 1 for his final three years. And for 11 years, Walters, who attended the same high school as Whipple, reigned as the school’s most prolific scorer with 153 goals.

No one wore the No. 1 jersey in 2007, but when attackman Grant Catalino from Webster, N.Y., enrolled, then-coach Dave Cottle gave him the number.

“I knew that Walters wore No. 1 because he’s from Rochester, and I had an idea that Whipple went to Maryland,” Catalino said. “But other than that, I didn’t really know the tradition. I hate to say it, but I didn’t grow up as a Maryland fan. I didn’t really know too much about it until I got there and started getting really invested in the program and the history and the tradition.’”

After Catalino graduated in 2011 ranked 10th in program history in points, the jersey went to attackman Mike Chanenchuk, a Poquott, N.Y., resident who transferred from Princeton.

“I think it really hit me in my senior year because I was a senior captain and one of the leaders on the team and the offense,” said Chanenchuk, who credited former offensive coordinator and current UMBC coach Ryan Moran for educating him about the number’s significance. “I was like, ‘Aw, this is pretty cool that I get to be No. 1 and try to follow in some of the footsteps of the great players that came before me.’ ”

Like Walters, attackman Matt Rambo wore No. 15 in his freshman year, which was Chanenchuk’s final season. And like Walters, the Glendale, Penn., resident switched to No. 1 for his final three years on the way to becoming Maryland’s all-time goals and points leader, the program’s first Tewaaraton Award winner and a 2017 NCAA champion.

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“I heard about the legacy of No. 1,” Rambo said. “I wanted to embrace that and represent it and wear it well.”

Kelly is the first player of that group who will wear the jersey for only one season. He conceded he would not have donned the number if coach John Tillman had not talked to him last summer.

“Getting that phone call, I didn’t really know the magnitude of getting that No. 1 jersey and the players who wore it before me,” said Kelly, who became only the third Terps player to post seven assists in a single game in a 12-10 win against then-No. 8 Notre Dame on Saturday. “So, getting to know them and having Coach Tillman give me the reins, it was awesome and a no-brainer.”

The three men who have coached the recent Terps squads — Dick Edell, Cottle and Tillman — said players who’ve been awarded the jersey have represented the No. 1 well. But each coach has enjoyed watching the legacy gain momentum.

“Starting with Andrew, it’s been a succession of some pretty good players,” Edell said. “That’s been great to see.”

“I think it was important to the players, and if it’s important to the players, it’s important to the coaches,” Cottle said.

Also among important numbers at Maryland, No. 21 has been “unofficially” retired by the program in honor of two-time Division I Midfielder of the Year Frank Urso. At Syracuse, No. 22 was popularized by Gary Gait and the three Powell brothers, and Dave Pietramala and John Gagliardi turned No. 43 at Johns Hopkins into a standard. But as several of the former Terps noted, No. 22 at Syracuse and No. 43 at Johns Hopkins are currently vacant.

There is a certain camaraderie among the players who wore No. 1.

“Whenever we see each other, we say, ‘Hey, what’s up, 1?’ as a little bond that we all have together,” Chanenchuk said. “It’s a little brotherhood we have.”

The number resonated with several of the players after life at Maryland. Whipple, Walters, Catalino and Chanenchuk wore No. 1 with their outdoor and indoor professional lacrosse teams. And Whipple’s and Mollot’s sons both wear No. 1 on their respective youth teams.

Tillman said sophomore attackman Jared Bernhardt will be offered the jersey after Kelly graduates. He said he carefully considers which players can be candidates for the number.

“People can look at it as maybe, ‘Hey, it’s putting undue pressure on anybody,’ ” he said. “I kind of look at it the other way and say, ‘Hey, we have so much confidence in you that we would like you to wear the No. 1 jersey because you embody what that number has meant.’ ”

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He’s No. 1!

Fourteen players have worn the No. 1 jersey for the Maryland men’s lacrosse team, but the number has taken on additional significance because of the past seven players who have adorned the jersey. Here are those seven players and a brief synopsis on their career accomplishments.

Player; Years; Note

Andrew Whipple; 1995-98; 3x All-American, tied for 8th in school history in career assists (97), 10th in career points (190)

Mike Mollot; 1999-03; 3x All-American, 11th in career assists (95), 17th in career points (172)

Joe Walters; 2004-06; 4x All-American (2x 1st), 2nd in career goals (153), 3rd in career points (227)

Grant Catalino; 2008-11; 3x All-American, 8th in career goals (119), 11th in career points (185)

Mike Chanenchuk; 2012-14; 2x All American (1x 1st), tied for 30th in career goals (77), 31st in career points (121)

Matt Rambo; 2015-17; 2x All American (1x 1st), 1st in career goals (155) and points (257)

Connor Kelly; 2018; 1x All American (1x 1st), 15th in career goals (95), 25th in career points (138)

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