Maryland is clinging to a slight 45-42 lead in this series, but Virginia has won six of the last seven meetings. Both teams are trying to bounce back from losses, but this contest is the Atlantic Coast Conference opener for the reigning national champion Cavaliers (8-1). The Terps (5-2 overall and 1-1 in the league) are trying to avoid a 1-2 finish in the conference for the third consecutive year. Here are a few factors that could play a role in the outcome at Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday.
1) Containing Virginia’s offense. The Cavaliers are tied for fifth in Division I in offense – averaging 13.0 goals per game – and are blessed with reigning Tewaaraton Award winner and senior attackman Steele Stanwick. But Stanwick (11 goals and 28 assists) is not a one-man show as he is flanked by senior attackman Chris Bocklet (22, 7), redshirt senior midfielder Colin Briggs (13, 11) and sophomore midfielder Rob Emery (15, 5). So the onus is on Maryland’s young defense to limit Virginia’s opportunities. “It’s tough,” Terps coach John Tillman said. “We really have to do it collectively, and it’s got to be in all phases. We’ve got to win faceoffs, we’ve got to clear the ball, we’ve got to do a good job on groundballs. Down at that end, we have to communicate. We can’t be worried about our guys. It’s definitely got to be seven-on-six down there.”
2) Piercing Virginia’s defense. As prolific as the offense has been, the Cavaliers have been nearly as good on defense, surrendering just 7.9 goals per game. They can switch effortlessly between man-to-man and zone defense, and the latter scheme forces opposing offenses to figure out where the gaps are. “On offense, we’ve got to be aggressive when it calls for it because we are a team that likes to push the ball,” Tillman said. “Yet when it’s not there, we’re going to be patient and take our time. If they run zone, that actually gives us the opportunity to play some defense with offense. If they want to play that zone, it actually helps us, I think.”
3) Keeping pace with Virginia. The Cavaliers are renowned for turning turnovers, saves and faceoff wins into scoring chances. The Terps aren’t exactly wallflowers either and can run with Virginia. Tillman confirmed that they will pounce on unsettled situations when they arise. “We are a team that will always like to run when we have the numbers, and we’ll always like to push the ball,” he said. “Yet we’ve got to make sure that we make really good choices, that we don’t jam the ball to guys that are covered, we don’t take bad shots. So we have to be really choosy with when we try to push the ball and then we’ve got to be really choosy with the options that are presented to us.”