Writing for USA Lacrosse Magazine about Maryland’s win against Cornell for the 2022 NCAA men’s lacrosse championship, my friend Patrick Stevens punctuated his story with a fitting final statement.
“All that effort, and as a result the Terps became champions — the only thing that mattered all along to Maryland.”
That phrase, “all that mattered,” was so fitting. The subplot surrounding the national champions has gotten much louder in recent weeks. Is this Maryland team, with an all-time best 18-0 final record, the greatest college lacrosse team of all time? In order to attempt to answer that question, a number of smaller subplots must be addressed.
There’s the subplot of how hairy things got late in the title game. That does not matter. Even if Terps head coach John Tillman pondered about it postgame, there are few things more absurd in sports than saying, “Well, if Team X had just had a little more time, the result might have been different.” I mean, yeah, maybe? If the teams were told at halftime that they had to play the second half with canoe oars instead of lacrosse sticks, the result might have been different, too! They didn’t. They played a sport with a defined set of rules and strategy based around those rules. Plenty of things might be different if the game was played with a separate set of rules!
Yes, Cornell showed a lot of fight and Maryland looked quite gassed in the fourth quarter. An insane turnaround from a Saturday night national semifinal to a Monday afternoon title game probably has at least a little to do with that. Should the highest seed in the tournament be guaranteed the more favorable semifinal start time? Probably! Are the NCAA and its media partner ESPN going to prioritize that over what they think will most help them in terms of audience? Probably not!
Another subplot might be the attempts to diminish the greatness of this Maryland run because of the presence of uniquely veteran players (like sixth-year senior Anthony DeMaio, whose natural hat trick in the first half helped create distance) and utilization of the transfer portal. This unquestionably does not matter. There were no special rules created to benefit the Maryland lacrosse program. All teams in the country had the same opportunity to keep players who were impacted by the 2020 COVID season cancellation around a little longer, and absolutely every single program had the opportunity to use players who came in via the transfer portal.
It is of course fair to give unique credit to Cornell and the other Ivy League programs that had strong seasons, as they had to overcome the unique adversity of the league canceling the 2021 season as well. There is significant reason for optimism after Connor Buczek led his alma mater to Championship Monday in just his first season as head coach … at age 28!
There’s the subplot of Maryland having won a tournament that was missing two teams that many in the sport believed were capable of making noise had they gotten in. Notre Dame was hot down the stretch (and until the title game had been the only team to even play Maryland within two goals this season) and Duke had comfortable wins against quarterfinalists Virginia and Delaware. But this, of course, also does not matter. Teams get left out of the tournament every year. Maryland defeated literally everyone it played. There is no controversy to be found.
There’s a slight subplot that for as good as they were this season, the Terps really needed to be kind of bailed out by goalie and NCAA Tournament Most Outstanding Player Logan McNaney, who made 36 saves during two games in East Hartford, Conn., to clinch the title. There’s an amount of truth to that subplot but exactly how is “All-American player plays like an All-American” some sort of detriment?
Which brings us back to that “best team ever” subplot. And you might not believe this but that subplot … also does not matter whatsoever.
It’s an impossible debate. Fourteen teams have finished a season undefeated since the Terrapins first did it in 1973. The 1990 Syracuse team (that actually had to vacate its title) is a popular choice, as it was led by icons Paul and Gary Gait and Tom Marechek and won its NCAA Tournament games by an average of more than 10 goals per game.
Is this Maryland team better than that Syracuse team? I truly have no clue. But I know this Maryland team was outstanding in every capacity. The Terps’ offense was excellent, Luke Wierman and the wings dominated the faceoff X and their defense was outstanding. As a group, Maryland was marvelous. It was incredible to watch this team operate in all facets of the game.
The Terps are one of the greatest college lacrosse teams of all time. They’re supremely deserving national champions. John Tillman has further cemented his legacy within the sport having now won multiple national titles. The heartbreak of last year’s title game loss to Virginia is long forgotten.
And as Patrick Stevens said, that truly is all that actually matters.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics