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UMBC at Maryland: Three things to watch

UMBC and Maryland will resume their annual series Saturday after the 2013 meeting was canceled because of snow. The Terps are 26-8 against their intrastate rivals, but the Retrievers have won four of the past six meetings.

UMBC is seeking only its third season-opening win in the past seven years. The team won’t have the services of five 2013 starters because of graduation and injury, but the offense does return sophomore midfielder and America East Rookie of the Year Pat Young (32 goals and seven assists in 2013) and senior attackman Matt Gregoire (28, 4). The key could be the development of redshirt freshman Connor Gordon, who is slated to make his first career start.

No. 11 Maryland opened its season last Saturday with a convincing 16-3 thumping of Mount St. Mary’s. A heralded freshman class did not disappoint, combining for seven goals, three assists, eight ground balls and one caused turnover. Freshman attackman Matt Rambo led the way with four goals and two assists.

Here are a few factors that could play a role at 2 p.m. Saturday at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

1) Retrievers offense vs. Terps defense. In addition to Young and Gregoire, UMBC returns sophomore attackman Nate Lewnes (14, 10). Promising freshman Max Maxwell is poised to join Gregoire and Lewnes on attack, but coach Don Zimmerman declined to reveal the first-team midfielders other than Young. Whatever the makeup, the offense will have to solve a Maryland defense oozing with experience and talent. If the Retrievers can get past a trio of defensemen in juniors Goran Murray and Casey Ikeda and sophomore Matt Dunn, and a defensive midfield of senior long pole Michael Ehrhardt and short sticks Brian Cooper and Nick Manis, they still have to beat senior goalkeeper Niko Amato, who moved into third place on the school’s all-time career saves list last week. “They may have the best defensive corps in the country,” Zimmerman said of the Terps. “They’ve got a seasoned goalkeeper, they’ve got veteran defensemen that are athletic, they extend, they play as a unit. So we just have to be able to adjust to their style, and this is where I think the first five or 10 minutes of the game are important, where our guys come out and get a feel for Maryland offensively, defensively and between the lines, and adapt their game to what the opponent is throwing at them.”

2) Retrievers’ Phil Poe vs. Terps’ Charlie Raffa. UMBC’s offense ranked 16th in Division I last season with 11.4 goals per game, and the unit got many of those opportunities courtesy of the play of faceoff specialist Phil Poe. As a junior in 2013, he won 58.8 percent of his draws and scooped up 99 ground balls. Maryland has a solid faceoff specialist in junior Charlie Raffa, who won 66.7 percent of his draws against Mount St. Mary’s. But Raffa has never faced Poe, who won 78.9 percent and scored a goal in the Retrievers’ last meeting with the Terps, an 8-7 UMBC win. Maryland coach John Tillman has not forgotten about Poe’s prowess at the faceoff X. “The last time we played UMBC, Phil Poe just did a great job for them, and we struggled at the X and they got a lot of possessions,” Tillman recalled. “So we’ve been on both sides of that, and that certainly is going to be a place we are going to emphasize.”

3) Retrievers’ defensive veterans vs. Terps’ young offense. UMBC lost a pair of starting defensemen in Ethan Murphy and Trey Cover, but senior Ian Gray and junior Mike Dahl each started six games last spring. Junior long pole Seth Mackin is back, as are junior Kevin McDonough and sophomore Steve Winsor at short-stick defensive midfielder. That group will clash with a Maryland offense paced by senior midfielder Mike Chanenchuk (three goals and one assists against Mount St. Mary’s) and junior attackman Jay Carlson (three goals), but the rest of the unit is still getting acclimated to the collegiate level. Nonetheless, Zimmerman said he is not holding the Terps’ youth against them. “They have the No. 1 recruiting class in the country,” he said. “These are outstanding players. They’ve already gotten that first game under their belts. I think I’d be foolish to base our success on trying to throw them off their game. I think that’s putting too much emphasis on Maryland and not enough emphasis on UMBC. Our focus is to show up at College Park with everyone on the same page and ready to go out and play to the best of our ability for 60 minutes.”

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