Undefeated Terps vie for NCAA lacrosse title vs. reigning champion Virginia

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Undefeated Terps vie for lacrosse title vs. reigning champs U.VA originally appeared on NBC Sports Washington

Two days before the 2020 season got shut down, Virginia was scheduled to come to College Park to play the first regular-season matchup between the former ACC rivals since Maryland left for the Big Ten six years earlier. 

It was billed as a rematch of the controversial quarterfinal in 2019 which Virginia won in overtime after a shot in regulation hit the crossbar but a referee ruled it a goal. Both coaches vividly remember the week leading up to their seasons getting canceled last spring and the grueling round-the-clock testing and sacrifices their players have had to endure this year to get to Championship Monday. 

With no postseason in 2020, Virginia is still the technical defending NCAA men's lacrosse champions and several key players from that title-winning team remain major contributors. Most notably among them are attackman Matt Moore, midfielder Dox Aitken, face-off specialist Petey LaSalla, and goalie Alex Rode. 

What the Cavaliers didn't have that season was Connor Shellenberger, Inside Lacrosse's No. 1-ranked recruit in the class of 2019 who redshirted last season and now leads the offense with 73 points. They also replaced lefty attackman Michael Kraus with two-time DII Player of the Year Charlie Bertrand. 

Maryland, on the other hand, comes into the ultimate game on Memorial Day battle tested. After breezing through most of the conference-only schedule in the regular season, the Terps proved their record true with an overtime win over Notre Dame in the quarterfinals and a dismantling of Duke's "superteam" in the semis. 

Maryland is led by the frontrunner for the Tewaaraton, the Heisman Trophy of college lacrosse, in Jared Bernhardt, who notched his 200th career goal vs. Duke and has 94 goals this season (both program records). Bernhardt speeds past defensemen like they're not even there, but the balance the Terps' offense exudes between relying on a No. 1 attackman and efficient ball movement is unprecedented. 

Rode, the most experienced goalie in the tournament who plays his best in May, will have his hands full trying to stop the country's most accurate shooters. Fortunately he plays behind long and rangy poles like Cole Kastner (6-foot-7), Cade Saustad (6-foot-5), and Kyle Kology (6-foot-4), as well as Jared Conners, the first long-stick midfielder to be awarded the USILA Midfielder of the Year since 2012, to get out to Maryland's shooters. 

The Terps' defense is led by Big Ten Defenseman of the Year Nick Grill and Second-Team All-American Brett Makar down low while their sophomore goalie Logan McNaney is coming off a career performance, making 17 saves to hold Duke's high-powered offense to just five goals. 

Winners of the 2017 championship, the Terps have appeared in five title games since John Tillman took over as head coach in 2011, losing the first four, including a 9-7 loss in his first season against Virginia at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

A decade later and Tillman could exact his revenge to help Maryland become the first undefeated champs since the Cavaliers accomplished the feat back in 2006. 

The Terps hold a narrow all-time series 47-45 lead between the programs who've been playing since 1926, but is 3-4 in the NCAA tournament against Virginia. The defending champions are looking for their seventh title, while Maryland is looking for its fourth. 

Opening face-off is slated for 1 p.m. at Pratt and Whitney Stadium at Rentschler Field in East Hartford, Conn.