This is the week every year that things get really interesting for the Terps. This is the week that the annual four-week stretch begins that goes a long way toward determining Maryland's fate in May. This is the week where questions get asked and start to get answered. We'll begin things here with a closer look at "The Stretch" and a closer look at this week's opponent - UNC. Then we'll also take a look back at last week's game vs. Villanova and finish up with a terrific story about a true Terp Ambassador.
Two years ago I dubbed Maryland's annual four-week grind of Carolina, Virginia, Navy and Hopkins "The Stretch." (I'm still open to any better suggestions, but so far none have been submitted.)
The reason this string of games gets some special recognition is two-fold: the length of the series and the fact that all four are historical rivals.
First, lets take a look at how long "The Stretch" has been going on. This year is the 35th straight year that Maryland will play these same four opponents from the end of March to mid-April. That's a long time; a really long time - dating back to 1978.
The Stretch has always started with North Carolina, so how did that first game go?
This thing all started with a 23-11 Maryland victory. All-American John Lamon led the way with four goals and three assists vs. the Tar Heels, while Barry Mitchell added five goals and one assist. Maryland's all-time leader in assists, Bob Boneillo, had another day at the office with six assists.
The game was just a bit different back in 1978. Take penalties for example. Last season, the Terps and Tar Heels played three times. Maryland totaled 9:00 on 10 penalties, while UNC committed eight penalties for a total of 5:30. In just that one game in 1978, each team committed 11 penalties for 9:00.
There is no disputing that these four teams are four of Maryland's biggest rivals. Here are the opponents Maryland had played the most in its 86-year history (including 2012 for Duke):
98, Johns Hopkins
61 North Carolina
Collectively, Maryland has played 329 games against its next four opponents, which is 33.4% of its total number of games played in its history.
Here are some facts about "The Stretch":
- In the 35-year span only four times has the stretch been interrupted with another game added in between one of these traditional four (1981, 1997, 2001, 2003).
- Overall, Maryland is 62-74 (.456) since 1978 vs. those four teams during "The Stretch".
- The Terps have swept the four games only once - in 1987.
- Only twice (1981 & 1988) has Maryland lost all four games.
- Six times (1978, 1979, 1989, 1996, 1998, 2001) the Terps have won three of the four games. Johns Hopkins broke up the Terps' bid for a perfect stretch four times, while Carolina and Virginia broke it up one time each.
- Maryland has defeated Navy 23 times during "The Stretch," more than any other opponent. UNC is next with the Terps winning 21 times.
Preview: North Carolina
If you buy into North Carolina being a struggling team that right now is just the 14th-best team in the country, then I say buyer beware.
This is a deep, talented and dangerous Tar Heel team that can play with and beat any team in the nation. If you're a fan of the sport then you already know a lot of the usual UNC names: Holman, Dunster, Wood, Glasso, Foster, Keenan, Hutchins, Rastivo. Now add in to that mix some amazingly talented freshmen and transfers: Jimmy Bitter (Fr.), Joey Sankey (Fr.), Chad Tutton (Fr.), Davey Emala (All-Big East transfer from Georgetown) and Jack McBride (2x All-America transfer from Princeton).
Carolina's roster reads more like an all-star team than a regular team's roster.
So, why are they just 5-3 on the season then?
I can't answer that, but what I do know is that this team is talented and it's only a matter of time before they put together a string of "Wow!" games. I just hope that doesn't start this week.
UNC opened the season with four-straight wins, including an impressive season-opening 14-10 decision over Penn State. The Tar Heels have lost three of the last four with losses to Lehigh at home and at Penn and at Duke. Sandwiched between the Penn and Duke defeats was an impressive and gutty 9-8 victory over a solid Princeton team at the Face-Off Classic in Baltimore.
The only real head-scratcher among those games is the Penn loss, but that was a midweek night game on the road and Maryland fans are familiar with the difficulties those games present.
The bottom line is that this is an ACC game. It will be an all out battle for 60 minutes. There are quality players on both sides. I mentioned the who's who for the Tar Heels a few graphs earlier, but Maryland has some pretty good talent itself. While UNC rolls out Holman, Hutchins and Bitter on its first midfield, the Terps' first line of Mike Chanenchuk (a 2010 All-American), John Haus (2011 All-American) and Drew Snider (2012 MLL Draft pick) can more than hold its own.
The game may be decided by which close defense plays better on Saturday. The difference in the two units is experience, which is tilted in favor of Carolina by senior Charlie McComas, who has started 51 of his 55 career games as a Tar Heel.
This one could be a shootout or a tight-knit back-and-forth contest controlled by goalie play and faceoffs.
Either way, this one promises to be a terrific game and the start of a fantastic Saturday of lacrosse on ESPNU. The Terps and Tar Heels kick things off at noon and will be followed by No. 1 Virginia squaring off with No. 2 Johns Hopkins at 2 p.m. I hope Terp fans will make the trip to Chapel Hill, but if they can't then they will be able to settle in at home and watch a great afternoon of lacrosse featuring four of the nation's best teams.
The Wildcats came into the game with a reputation for starting fast (coming into the game, Villanova had outscored its opponents 26-9 in the first quarter), but the tables were turned this time around. Before the Wildcats even had their first real possession the score was already 4-0 for the Terps and the first quarter ended with Maryland holding a 6-0 lead.
The real story of this game became the play of some of Maryland's Pennsylvania natives, who tormented their hometown team.
Leading the way on offense was Downingtown, Pa., native Owen Blye. He had a career-day, setting career highs with six points and four goals. Blye scored two goals and added an assist in the 6-0 first quarter. He then assisted on Michael Shakespeare's big bouncer to open the third quarter scoring. A man-up goal late in the third and a terrific transition goal in the fourth capped Blye's fantastic day.
Defensively, Niko Amato, a native of Philly suburb Conshohocken, was stellar in cage. He finished the day with 12 saves and six groundballs, but a fair share of the saves were on point-blank shots or on open looks for the Wildcats. Amato has shown a flare for brilliance in big games and this was doubly big; a Top 10 team from his hometown.
Maryland's other starter from the Philly area, Goran Murray, who is from Merion Station, Pa., had a quieter afternoon if you just looked at the stat sheet with one groundball and one caused turnovers, but he was locked up with Nova's Kevin Cunningham (10 goals, 6 assists coming into the game) most of the afternoon. Murray more than held his own, limiting Cunningham, the 2012 preseason Big East Offensive Player of the Year, to just one goal and helping force him into committing three turnovers.
All in all, it was a great afternoon for the Terps and the victory should end up being a quality one at the end of the year. Check out the highlights.
Facebook Player of the Week
Each week fans vote (even if I forget to post it on here like last week) on the Maryland Men's Lacrosse Facebook page for the Player of the Week for the previous week.
This week's winner for the Villanova game is Owen Blye, who set his career high with six points and four goals vs. his hometown team.
Week 1 (Hartford): Curtis Holmes (19-of-20 facing-off, 9 GBs, 1 goal)
Week 2 (Georgetown): Joe Cummings (career-high six points, 4 goals, 2 assists)
Week 3 (Duke): Niko Amato (14 total saves, 9 in 4th quarter)
Week 4 (Marist): Niko Amato (13 saves, only 2 goals allowed)
Week 5 (Villanova): Owen Blye (career highs with 6 points and 4 goals)
Many of the comments that come in to us through the website on a variety of subjects about a lot of different sports are of the negative variety (the vocal minority I'm sure), so it was all the more refreshing to receive the following e-mail Monday morning.
"Hi, I just wanted to provide some positive feedback to your lacrosse program...
"My 12-year-old son Colin is a lacrosse player here in the Dallas, TX area and is also a huge Univ. of Maryland lacrosse fan. (I am an alum of Texas A&M and we are big Aggie fans, but we don't have an NCAA lax team) For his Spring Break, I surprised him with a trip to College Park to see the Terps play Villanova on 3/17. To say he was excited was an understatement!
"We were there and waiting when the stadium gates opened. I picked up a complimentary schedule/poster for him to hang on his wall. We had a blast watching the first half. At half time, while I was purchasing some concessions, Colin started up a conversation with a young man, who he later learned was Justin Blye, a senior on the 2011 team. When the game was over, Justin took Colin down to the stadium railing to meet some of the players and get autographs before they left the field. The players were very gracious and accommodating, not just with Colin, but with all of the kids.
"Owen Blye was announced as the player of the game, and Colin has his and Justin's autographs on his poster.
"We also meet their father afterwards. They were all so very nice to us out-of-towners. I don't think it's possible for my son and I to have had a better time. The game was great, but the people we met - from the vendors, to the ticket takers, to the players, and especially the Blyes (yes, Colin talked to all of them) - made the whole experience unforgettable. I think you've made my son a Terp fan for life!
"Please pass along our appreciation!"
I included this here for a couple of reasons.
First, to let fans know that they are certainly appreciated; not just by the current Terps on the field, but also by the Terps (I hate to say former, because "Once a Terp, Always a Terp") that are no longer playing. The players play because they love the game and are skilled enough and talented enough to play at the Division I level, but they never forget that at one time they were the youngsters in the stands watching the game and hoping one day it would be them on the field. There is a connection to the players and the fans that runs deep.
Second, to let our alums know that they are still contributing to the program and that they are appreciated. Some can contribute financially and that is great and greatly needed and appreciated. But even if that's not something you can swing right now, you can always contribute by being an ambassador for this university and program. You never know whom you will meet or who you will reach by just a simple conversation. A few years from now if the Terps get a verbal commitment from a boy named Colin from Texas then it will probably be as much because of the time spent on a Saturday afternoon in 2012 by Justin Blye as it is anything else.
The players who built the legacy at Maryland are, and always will be, its greatest ambassadors.
That does it for this edition of the Blog. "The Stretch" starts on Saturday and hopefully a large contingent of Red and Black will be in Chapel Hill, but even if you can't make it down "Tobacco Road" (just for you Billy) you'll be able to see all of the action on ESPNU.
If you can't make it to the game and can't be in front of your TV then you can always follow the game on the Maryland Men's Lacrosse Facebook and Twitter pages, so "Like" and "Follow" to get the latest news and updates. You can also try the WatchESPN app on your mobile device. Depending on your connection and cable plan you might be able to watch the game on the go.
As always - Be The Best!