Familiar foes Maryland, Ohio State to face off Monday for NCAA men's lacrosse championship

The NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament final has all the makings of a grudge match pitting top-seeded Maryland and No. 3 seed Ohio State, a pair of Big Ten teams that split two earlier meetings, with the Terps capturing the conference's tournament championship on the Buckeyes' home turf in Columbus just three weeks ago.

But on the eve of Monday's title game at 1 p.m. here at Gillette Stadium, players and coaches from both sides took great pains to express their mutual admiration for each other.


"They've had a great year," Maryland senior defenseman Tim Muller said. "They're obviously here for a reason. So we have a ton of respect for them, a ton. So we're just going to look at it the same as every other game. We can't really look at them with dislike or anything."

Said Ohio State senior attackman Eric Fannell: "I'm excited to play Maryland again, and the whole team is excited for Maryland again. They're a very good team. We have a lot of respect for them, and every time we play them, we play to the best of our ability. It's a Big Ten matchup again, grudge match. We couldn't be more thrilled to play Maryland again, especially on the biggest stage in NCAA lacrosse."


During an NCAA conference call Tuesday, Terps coach John Tillman said he had ordered his players to refrain from rushing the field after wins because of some chatter exchanged between Maryland and the Buckeyes after the former's 10-9 win in the Big Ten championship game May 6. On Sunday, Tillman agreed that the nature of being conference rivals is planting the seed for a contentious rivalry between the sides.

"[Ohio State coach] Nick [Myers] has done such a good job with his program, and I think they're going to be around for a long time," he said. "Obviously, you go from one conference to the other, and it seems like some rivalries are naturally going to prosper in that. It seems like this is probably going to be one of them."

The tournament final will involve a pair of teams that have generally been two of the strongest and most consistent this season. The Buckeyes (16-4) have defeated the Terps, Denver and Towson – all three teams in the final four – in addition to Loyola Maryland, Duke and the Tigers again in the postseason.

Maryland (15-3) has beaten Ohio State, Albany and North Carolina in the regular season and Bryant, the Great Danes and the Pioneers in the NCAA tournament. And all three losses have been by one goal.

The sudden turnaround between Saturday's semifinals and Monday's final can be onerous in terms of physical conditioning and mental preparation, but the benefit for both teams is that they are familiar with each other's strengths and weaknesses.

"I think for both teams, it takes a little pressure off," Tillman said. "The fact that we played them not only once but twice I think does help both teams and the kids to kind of be a little more focused on getting your rest, things like that, and you don't have to cram for the exam."

Although the Buckeyes will play in their first title game in school history, they are eager to add a national championship that programs like football in 2014, wrestling in 2015, and men's volleyball in 2016 and 2017 have captured.

"That's been our theme all year," Myers said. "'Hey, let's chase our best stuff,' and we feel like the biggest opponent we face is ourselves. At the end of the day, that's really been kind of our mantra this year in terms of developing a championship team."


Still, the weight of Monday's game will be heaviest on a Maryland team seeking the school's first NCAA crown since 1975. The program has fallen short in its past nine title-game appearances, including four times during Tillman's seven-year tenure.

But junior midfielder Connor Kelly said the scars from those disappointments have actually fueled this year's squad.

"I think after these past few years, it's built a mental toughness and physical toughness through those losses," he said. "We're a team that tries to battle adversity at all costs. So having these failures, we're trying to turn these negatives into positives throughout the season."