Johns Hopkins legend Dave Pietramala, who will be a studio analyst for ESPN’s coverage of the men’s lacrosse Final Four, says there’s no clear favorite among the four teams remaining but that Maryland may have the player best suited for the big moment in Jared Bernhardt.
The Final Four and national championship will take place May 29 and May 31, respectively, with all three contests taking place at Pratt & Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn. No. 1 seed North Carolina and No. 4 Virginia will kick things off at noon May 29, while No. 2 Duke and No. 3 Maryland are scheduled to square off at 2:30 p.m. The winners will play for the national title at 1 p.m. on Memorial Day.
Here were the paths to Hartford for all four teams:
- North Carolina (13-2) defeated Monmouth, 16-4, and Rutgers, 12-11, in overtime. The Tar Heels last won the national title in 2016.
- Duke (14-2) beat High Point, 16-10, and Loyola, 10-9, in overtime. The Blue Devils last won the championship in 2014.
- Maryland (14-0) defeated Vermont, 17-11, and No. 6 Notre Dame, 14-13, in overtime. The Terps last won the title in 2017.
- Virginia (12-4) beat Bryant, 13-11, and No. 5 Georgetown, 14-3. The Cavaliers last won the championship in 2019.
Pietramala, who compiled a record of 207-93 and won two national titles during his tenure as Hopkins’ head coach from 2001-2020, believes it’s wide open heading into the weekend — so much so that he believes each team has a 25 percent chance of winning.
“If I was to honestly break it down, I think it’s as even as it can be,” Pietramala said on Glenn Clark Radio May 26. “You can make a case for each one of these four teams — how well they’ve been coached, whatever adversity they’ve dealt with. One team may have a greater depth of talent. The other team may have the most elite player or one of the top two or three elite players in the country, so I think you can make a case for each one of them to be 25 percent of that pie.”
Pietramala explained that each team has different strengths. Carolina exhibits balance and unselfishness, beginning with senior attackman Chris Gray (46 goals, 40 assists). Maryland is tough and resilient with underrated midfielders. Duke has talent everywhere, and though graduate attackman Michael Sowers leads the way (35, 44), he doesn’t dominate time on the ball. Virginia had a three-week break before the start of the NCAA tournament, allowing it to recharge.
But one advantage that Maryland has that the other three teams don’t is senior attackman Jared Bernhardt, who has scored 64 goals and dished out 23 assists this year. As such, he’s likely the Tewaaraton Award frontrunner on the men’s side. He scored six goals in the Terps’ first-round victory against Vermont May 16 and five in their quarterfinal win against Notre Dame May 23.
Pietramala coached against Bernhardt from 2017-2020, and the 6-foot-1, 195-pound attackman was always a big part of the scouting report on Maryland. Bernhardt has scored 190 goals in five years with the Terps, tops in program history.
“When I was at Hopkins, [assistant coach] Bill Dwan and I used to sit as we prepared for Maryland and say, ‘Gosh, we really hope that this isn’t the game that he really decides to be super aggressive,'” Pietramala said. “Because we always felt like there was another gear to his game. And this year as a fifth-year guy, he has come back and he has asserted himself in a different manner than I’ve seen in years past.”
Pietramala explained that Bernhardt is “playing with an edge and with a passion and a get-after-it kind of attitude that I have not quite seen before,” making him perhaps the most dangerous player in crunch time in the Final Four.
“It’s hard to say that any one guy is better than the other, but quite frankly I think he may be the one guy that if you’ve got to give the ball to someone at the end of the game and say, ‘All right, we need a goal, go get it,'” Pietramala said. “He can either run by a No. 1 defender or if he does and draws a slide, he can find the open guy. He might be the guy that I say I want on my team to do that, especially in a big moment.”
But there’s more to Bernhardt’s game than goal-scoring, according to Pietramala, who pointed to a play that occurred with less than seven minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Maryland-Notre Dame game, which was tied at 12 at the time. Bernhardt cut across the middle of the field to draw the attention of the Fighting Irish and open things up for fellow senior attackman Logan Wisnauskas, who buried a shot for the Terps’ 13th goal of the game.
That play likely came from Terps assistant coach Bobby Benson, who used to work under Pietramala at Hopkins.
“They used Bernhardt as a decoy. He’s the guy cutting in and he’s the guy that sets the screen,” Pietramala said. “He’s such a good off-ball player and he does so many things well. No. 1, having coached against him, he’s a challenge to prepare for, but certainly from a spectator’s point of view this year, a joy to watch.”
For more from Pietramala, listen to the full interview here:
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics