D-I Men's Rewind: Observations and Analysis from NCAA Quarterfinals

PHOTO BY GREGORY A. SHEMITZ

Bobby Russo (No. 88) and Rutgers celebrate an 11-9 win over Penn on Saturday.


Let’s acknowledge something obvious: The last two tournaments worth of quarterfinals really spoiled lacrosse fans. They can’t all be 2019. Or 2021.

The quarterfinal rounds in those years yielded three overtime games apiece. The dud in 2019 was Penn State’s 21-14 drubbing of Loyola; Mac O’Keefe scored nine goals for the Nittany Lions, and Pat Spencer found the net six times in his final career game. Last year, Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger uncorked six goals to personally double up Georgetown in the round’s lone blowout.

This year’s quarterfinals brought long-awaited ecstasy to Rutgers, payoffs for Cornell and Princeton after losing nearly two seasons to the pandemic and another ruthless rout for Maryland, which moved a step closer to taking its place in the pantheon of untouchable and undefeated champions.

All of those things possess value, and the four advancing teams — especially the non-Maryland ones for whom a trip to Memorial Day Weekend feels like a laudable accomplishment to revel in rather than just a necessary step toward an end result — surely aren’t complaining about anything. Nor should they.

None of the four games, though, featured a margin of fewer than three goals entering the final minute (late goals by Delaware and Penn would pull them within two). There wasn’t a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it final play. Come to think of it, what was the defining play of the weekend?

One of Rutgers’ transition goals? Maryland’s Roman Puglise fooling Virginia with a fake substitution that twice led to goals? The answer may well be Michael Long’s go-ahead goal for Cornell after a failed Delaware clear.

In the absence of an unforgettable forever moment, the four games instead are best appreciated for the details and nuances. Those are what make up many of the highlights of the NCAA Division I men’s tournament’s quarterfinal weekend.

BEST GAME

Rutgers races past Penn

The Scarlet Knights haven’t been quite as determined to outrun people this season. Or really last year, either. Rutgers played that way in its early Big Ten years to differentiate itself from the rest of the league and make up ground on the margins. Anyone who has seen Brian Brecht’s team this year knows there isn’t a need to do so on a regular basis.

Yet it’s still embedded in the program’s DNA to an extent, and one of Rutgers’ great strengths is a rope unit that can get out in transition if necessary but is also deft at the defensive end. Ethan Rall is one of the nation’s top long stick midfielders. Brennan Kamish is probably the best of a strong set of short sticks.

Saturday, the “if necessary” part came to the fore. Rall scored. Short stick Zackary Franckowiak scored. Kamish had an assist. Cole Daninger had three assists, a career high for the senior. And Rutgers sealed its victory with Bryant Boswell’s pole goal with 1:04 remaining.

Just because the Scarlet Knights are more opportunistic than dogged in finding transition chances doesn’t mean they can’t thrive in an up-tempo setting. Saturday demonstrated that.

NOTABLE NEAR-MISS

Delaware’s run ends

From 6-5 in mid-April to being tied entering the fourth quarter of an NCAA quarterfinal, Delaware salvaged its season in impressive fashion.

After an 0-2 start in Colonial Athletic Association play, it won three in a row to make the league tournament. It crushed Drexel and dispatched Towson to earn the program’s first NCAA berth since 2011. It routed Robert Morris and stunned Georgetown to reach the quarterfinals.

And despite sputtering on offense against a stout Cornell defense, the Blue Hens had their chances before a possession disparity took its toll in the fourth quarter, as the Big Red pulled away for a 10-8 triumph.

It was Delaware’s first quarterfinal appearance since 2007. That team had some fabulously slick players, but the cheat code in the middle of it all was faceoff specialist Alex Smith. These Blue Hens have a star in defenseman Owen Grant, but the foundation in place suggests they could get back here again — and soon.







BIGGEST SURPRISE … AND THE SURPRISE THAT WASN’T

Maryland pummels Virginia

Anyone who witnessed Maryland’s 23-12 defeat of Virginia on March 19 probably came away with two thoughts. First, good heavens did the Terrapins look good. And second, it’s hard to believe Maryland would be 11 goals better than the defending national champs if they met again.

Both sentiments were correct. Maryland did look good that day, and again Sunday. And the Terps weren’t 11 goals better than the Cavaliers. The margin dropped to nine this time around, an 18-9 pounding that felt even more lopsided.

Virginia (12-4) was as healthy as it was going to get, but it had answers on neither end of the field for the Terps. It’s no stunner Maryland approached a 20-goal game. But the relatively muted day for Virginia’s offense — especially after its second-half blitz against Brown in the tournament’s first round — stood out.

In the end, the Terps really are that much better this year than the program that tormented them in the 2019 quarterfinals and last year’s national title game. And they might just be that much better than everyone.

BEST INDIVIDUAL PERFORMANCES

Colin Kirst, Rutgers

Another week, another Kirst in this column. The Scarlet Knights goalie made 18 saves — including 12 in the second half — as Rutgers rallied to an 11-9 victory over Penn. Next up for Kirst is a matchup with Cornell and his younger brother CJ, who had seven goals in the Big Red’s first-round rout of Ohio State.

The Terrapins have it figured out pretty well: The best way to contain Virginia’s offense is to limit the Cavaliers’ possessions. Wierman, arguably Maryland’s most valuable player all season, won 20 of 29 draws (primarily against Petey LaSalla) in Sunday’s rout. It was a comparable performance to Wierman’s first showing against Virginia, a 24 of 36 day on March 19.

TEWAARATON WATCH

Sam Handley, Penn: The midfielder assisted on three goals for the Quakers in their 11-9 loss to Rutgers but shot 0 of 7 and had four turnovers.

Connor Shellenberger, Virginia: The redshirt sophomore was held without a point for the first time in 34 career games as a Cavalier, stymied by Ajax Zappitello and the rest of the Maryland offense in the Terps’ 18-9 victory.

Logan Wisnauskas, Maryland: The only Tewaaraton finalist who will play next weekend, Wisnauskas had three goals and two assists as the Terps rolled. He has 11 points (seven goals, four assists) in two NCAA tournament games.

NUMBERS OF NOTE

1

Trip to the NCAA semifinals for Rutgers, which broke through in its 11th NCAA tournament appearance. The Scarlet Knights, who defeated Penn 11-9 on Saturday, have won three postseason games over the last two seasons. Prior to then, Rutgers was 2-9 in the NCAA tournament.

2

Players in Penn history to score 50 goals in a season. Adam Goldner had 56 goals in 2019, and former teammate Dylan Gergar surpassed the 50-goal plateau by scoring four goals Saturday against Rutgers. Gergar finished the year with 52 goals.

9-1

Career record in NCAA quarterfinal games for Maryland coach John Tillman. The Terrapins doubled up Virginia 18-9 to earn the program’s ninth trip to Memorial Day weekend since 2011. Duke has the second most in that span with seven.

18

Years between semifinal appearances for Princeton, which dispatched Yale 14-10 on Saturday to earn its first appearance on the season’s final weekend since 2004. The only longer droughts that were halted belonged to Yale (28 years, 1990-2018), Navy (23 years, 1981-2004), North Carolina (23 years, 1993-2016), Brown (22 years, 1994-2016) and Cornell (19 years, 1988-2007).

22

Years since both NCAA quarterfinal sites drew announced crowds of less than 6,000 during a non-pandemic season, when Rutgers and Johns Hopkins did so in 2000. Hofstra’s doubleheader Saturday drew 5,814 on a seasonably warm afternoon, while Ohio State’s two games Sunday attracted an announced crowd of 3,684.

42

Years since Cornell and Rutgers last met in lacrosse. The semifinalists will play in the first game on Saturday, their first encounter since a 13-10 Cornell victory on April 27, 1980.

91

Days between meetings for Maryland and Princeton. The Terrapins earned a 15-10 victory over the Tigers on Feb. 26 in College Park. It was the fourth game of the season for Maryland and the third of the year for Princeton.

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