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Brian Falzarano | | May 25, 2016

What to watch at national semifinals

We are down to the final four teams of Division I men’s lacrosse, with Brown, Loyola Maryland, Maryland and North Carolina vying for the national championship this weekend at Philadelphia’s Lincoln Financial Field.

Before the national semifinals commence, here are five things to watch this weekend.

DI Men's Lacrosse Interactive Bracket

1.  Maryland hoping for a happy homecoming

Eight players from the top-ranked Terrapins (16-2) hail from within an hour of the City of Brotherly Love, including leading scorer and junior attacker Matt Rambo (39 goals, 63 points), a native of nearby Glenside, Pennsylvania. However, Maryland has lost in three of the last five national championship games including a 9-7 setback against Denver last Memorial Day – and has not won a national championship since 1975.

Among the local natives, three are top reservers: Senior midfielder Pat Young (Ewing, N.J.), sophomore defender Bryce Young (Egg Harbor Township, N.J.) and freshman defender Curtis Corley (Medford Lakes, N.J.). Having eight student-athletes from the area, as well as the campus being a relatively short drive from campus, should give Maryland a home-crowd advantage at Lincoln Financial Field.

  Maryland senior goalie Kyle Bernlohr had 15 saves with seven goals against vs. Syracuse.
Beyond the 15-game winning streak and school-record 16 victories, though, this version of the Terrapins appears different, though. Senior goalie Kyle Bernlohr (7.62 GAA) has been sensational between the pipes while senior midfielder Bryan Cole (21 goals, 27 assists), a fellow first-team all-Big Ten performer, teams with Rambo to provide a dynamic one-two scoring punch.

“Over the past five years, we’ve gotten to the Final Four and said, ‘This is it,’” sixth-year coach John Tillman said. “It makes you realize that it takes so much to get there and so much more to win a national championship. So we’re a team that’s kind of staying humbled and staying focused and just taking it one game at a time.”

2. Molloy likely out for Brown

A reported broken right foot might deny us all the chance to see the nation’s most prolific offensive player against the nation’s hottest team since Brown coach Lars Tiffany all but ruled out Division I leading scorer and Tewaarton Award finalist Dylan Molloy for Saturday’s semifinal against No. 1 Maryland.

“Dylan’s status is, he has not been on the practice field,” Tiffany said during a Tuesday conference call. “All he’s doing is in the training room. I think it’s highly unlikely he’s on the field. There’s a lot of pain in that foot. So we’re going to continue to try to do anything medically rational and reasonable to do to get him on the field, but I don’t know.

“He’s still got the scooter, he’s still got the crutches. At this point, I think it’s unlikely.”

While No. 5 Brown (16-2) managed 11 goals in a quarterfinal victory against Navy, Molloy (60 goals, 114 points) is tied for the fourth-most points scored in a season. Thus, the scoring load will be shoulders by seniors Kylor Bellistri (62 goals) and Henry Blynn (50 goals) as the Bears make just their second semifinal appearance – and first since 1994.

3. Freshmen phenomenal for Loyola

For No. 7 Loyola (14-3) to win its first national championship since 2012, it will need freshman Pat Spencer (83 points) to continue one of the finest rookie seasons in recent memory.

Named the Patriot League Offensive Player and Rookie of the Year, the Davidsonville, Md., native has produced two or more points in all 17 games thus far, 12 multi-goal contests and 11 tilts with two or more assists en route to becoming just the second player in program history to tally 80 or more points. Spencer produced six goals and six assists in two NCAA games to extend the Greyhounds’ winning streak to 10 games.

Defensively, rookie goalkeeper Jacob Stover (7.14 GAA), the son of former Baltimore Ravens kicker Matt Stover, is 10-1 overall and 10-0 as the starter during the Loyola’s winning streak. On four occasions, he has allowed six goals or fewer.

DI Men's Lacrosse: North Carolina upsets Notre Dame
4. Pontrello leading UNC’s unlikely run

Certainly North Carolina (10-6) is the most unlikely squad still alive the final weekend of May, and perhaps the most unlikely in history. The Tar Heels weathered a challenging schedule and showed their resolve in ousting No. 6 Marquette and No. 3 Notre Dame to set up Saturday’s matchup against No. 7 Loyola Maryland.

This is the time of year when senior experience often pays dividends. Attacker Steve Pontrello is proof, as evidenced by his six goals in UNC’s two tournament wins. He leads a balanced offensive effort with 45 goals and 62 points; the Tar Heels have five players with 33 or more points.

Pontrello is also enjoying a homecoming in his final weekend of college lacrosse. He grew up less than 30 minutes away in Marlton, New Jersey.

“My confidence is through the roof,” Pontrello told The Daily Tar Heel after the Notre Dame game. “I know this team’s confidence is through the roof and we can definitely win it all. We are not done yet.”

5. Battle of Maryland brewing?

Although Loyola and Maryland did not meet in the regular season, a potential battle between the perennial powers already has the state buzzing. Especially since the sides have only faced each other twice in the past 10 regular seasons, with the No. 1 Terrapins winning close contests in 2013 and 2015.

However, the Greyhounds did produce a 9-3 victory to win the 2012 national championship.

Unsurprisingly, both rosters are stocked with Maryland student-athletes (11 for Maryland, 10 for Loyola). A battle on college lacrosse’s biggest stage would certainly grab the attention of future recruits throughout the Old Line State.

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