For the first time in 10 years, the ACC Tournament makes its way back to College Park. Byrd Stadium will host three games this weekend featuring the #2-#5 teams in the country in what should be the best weekend in lacrosse this season [yes, better than the Big City Classic which featured the top 4 teams at the time]...why? It's the ACC baby.
Back on March 27th, Maryland went down to UNC for a match-up of two undefeated teams. The Terps were clicking on all cylinders, especially on offense, yet were dominated on both sides of the ball in Chapel Hill. Carolina didn't even have their best offensive player, All-American Billy Bitter. Freshman Marcus Holman [a product of Baltimore powerhouse, Gilman] scored 4 goals to pick up the slack. UNC was also without the services of Sean DeLaney for much of the game after he left with a hand injury.
Maryland's fantastic EMO offense was 3-4 on the day, but they never really got into a groove. Grant Catalino was held without a goal until he made the score 9-7 with just about a minute left; the game was well out of reach by then. UNC's towering defense (Ryan Flanagan stands 6-6, Michael Jarvis is listed at 6-5, and Kevin Piegare is the "shortest" of the bunch at 6-2). They were more physical and out-hustled the Terrapins...two of the keys for Maryland's late success.
Senior Bryn Holmes has stepped up in a big way. Coach Dave Cottle described him as the "toughest son of a booger" he has ever coached. He took virtually every face off against Johns Hopkins in the 10-9 victory. Ever since the back-to-back losses to UNC and UVA, Maryland has gotten back to its lacrosse roots. Being the tougher team on the field, winning with effort and not just talent.
UNC is coming of a 17-14 shoot out with Robert Morris. Gavin Petracca scored a career best 6 goals and Bitter, Holman, and Cryder DiPietro each had 2 goals in the win. Their only loss since the UMD game was against UVA as well. Virginia prevailed 7-5 over the Tar Heels on April 10th. After falling behind 5-0 (UVA seems to play extremely well against their ACC foes in the first half; remember the 6-0 lead they took over Maryland and this past weekend versus Duke, they were outscored 8-3 in the second half as the Blue Devils won 13-9). Steele Stanwick of UVA notched a hat trick while UNC was led by Bitter who had 2 goals. Both coaches admitted they held a little back with the strong possibility of playing 2 more games against each other.
On the season, UNC is led by Bitter (19G, 20A) and Gavin Petracca (20G, 15A). They have 4 more players who have scored at least 20 points and DiPietro has 19 points on the season. Chris Madalon brings a 6.97 GAA to College Park. He has done a solid job between the pipes, but that low number can be attributed to the stellar defense. UNC has outscored opponents 138-84 on the season, including holding Virginia and UMD to season low totals.
Michael Burns (103-203 FOW) has taken most of the face-offs. Against the Terps in late March, he beat everything Cottle threw at him. Be it Jake Bernhardt, Jesse Bernhardt, or Bryn Holmes, Burns won seemingly every face-off. As always, if Holmes can get the ball rolling in Maryland's favor, the offense will get a chance to really test Madalon in the cage. When the Terps were able to shoot in the game at UNC, they were able to get the ball in the net.
Travis Reed has the hot hand with 8 points (6G, 2A) in his last two games. Ryan Young is moving extremely well with the ball in the X spot behind the net. He is 7th in NCAA D-1 Lacrosse with 2 assists per game. Grant Catalino also appears to have shot himself out of his mini slump. He has 5 goals in the past two games and with his confidence back, has shown his fearlessness that was a trademark in his first two years in College Park.
Maryland, UNC, and UVA rank in the top 6 in the nation in terms of ground balls per game. Joe Cummings got his first collegiate hat trick against the Tar Hells last year in the ACC Tournament loss to Carolina (16-10 L). Maryland's EMO offense is #1. The unit is converting 61.8% of their chances when they play with a man-up. Adam Sear leads the way in this category with 6 goals in those situations (the team was a perfect 4-4 against Hopkins).
Although there is no Automatic Bid at stake, a top-4 seed in the NCAA tournament is. I would have to believe that all ACC schools will get a top 8 ranking if they win their final games after the conference tournament. Traditionally, schools like Syracuse and Johns Hopkins refused to join a conference (although Syracuse just became a member of the Big East). However, now the conference tournaments give teams the chance to increase their RPI and get another quality win or two, especially for the ACC juggernauts.
It should be a great weekend and hopefully Maryland can bring the trophy back to College Park. I know I'm not alone when I say that its been too long since championships have graced our campus. The path to a potential Final Four in Baltimore could become much easier as well. Listen to wmucsports.com for all the action. Go Terps!