Last spring, Connor Kelly was a freshman who made appearances in all 19 games for Maryland as a member of the second midfield. He finished with five goals and three assists, but showcased his ability with a three-goal performance in a 14-7 rout of North Carolina in a NCAA tournament quarterfinal.
This season, the sophomore has already surpassed those numbers with nine goals and eight assists and has moved into the starting lineup for the past six games for the No. 5 Terps (6-2).
Kelly set a career high in points with six on three goals and three assists in Saturday’s 11-8 win against No. 17 North Carolina and added one goal and one assist in Tuesday’s 13-8 victory at Penn. Before the Penn game, Kelly was named the Big Ten Conference Co-Offensive Player of the Week with Penn State sophomore attackman Ryan Keenan.
Coach John Tillman said last year’s experience was instrumental in Kelly’s growth.
“He was on the extra-man for most of the year and was really one of our top six midfielders and I think that’s hard to do at a place like Maryland, to have that much thrown on your plate as a young player,” Tillman said Wednesday. “We certainly thought he was a good player coming out of high school. He’s a very skilled player, very poised. He’s very two-handed, he’s got good vision, and he can also shoot the ball pretty well. So getting that experience last year, we kind of challenged him in the offseason to take that next step, and he’s getting more time, and I think as he’s doing that, he’s getting more confident. He’s become a better athlete, he’s become stronger.”
Kelly’s game includes the ability to dodge from behind the cage, which he did frequently on Saturday against the Tar Heels. That versatility allows the offense to use his teammates in other roles and add a wrinkle for opponents to scout.
Tillman said Kelly’s morale is growing as he continues to work with starting seniors Bryan Cole and Henry West.
“I think Henry and Bryan have done a great job of kind of bringing Connor along, showing their confidence in him, supporting him because a lot of the other players are garnering more attention, especially early,” Tillman said. “So that’s made Connor’s job a little bit easier, and he’s made the most of it to his credit, and I think he’s garnering more attention now. I’m sure he’ll have to deal with that, but he’s done a pretty good job with that so far.”