COLLEGE PARK – When it comes to the University of Maryland men’s lacrosse program, there is a single number that remains constant: one.
What some people say is just a number, Maryland supporters know that No. 1 was and still is worn by some of the best athletes to play the game which has led the Terrapins to astronomical levels of achievement in arguably one of the toughest conferences (Big Ten) in Division I lacrosse.
You see, No. 1 has a unique significance to the success of the Terrapins program that spans all the way back to 1972 when Bill Reilly made a name for himself by stopping 104 shots to help the Terps reach the NCAA semifinals that year. Who would have thought that the first player to don No. 1 would create a culture of excellence for 46 years including 14 players who wore it with pride.
The reigning NCAA champions are used to being at the top spot with the support of the newest member of the No. 1 club in senior midfielder Connor Kelly who gives netminders nightmares whenever he is winding up to snipe a shot at the point or when he fires darts toward the net in the slot.
Quite the contrary to Rielly, who most likely would not have liked Kelly stalking around his crease looking to score. Kelly is No. 1 in points per game and shots per contest this season in the Big Ten while scoring 40 goals, and generously dished out 33 assists. The 2017 NCAA All-Big Ten member and 2018 Big Ten Men’s Lacrosse Offensive Player of the Year is carrying the torch into the postseason as the new big man on campus without the support of Matt Rambo who wore No. 1 as he played alongside Kelly to capture Maryland’s third NCAA title last season. Rambo is the leader in points (257), goals (155) and career games played (75) which helped his team capture the Terps first NCAA championship title since 1975 just a year ago.
Rambo was the first men’s player to win the Tewaaraton Award (given annually to the most outstanding American college men’s and women’s lacrosse player) in Maryland’s history since the award’s inception in 2001 for his performance in 2017 and Kelly is a finalist this year for the prestigious honor.
“My teammates are my brothers, and I would not be here without them,” Rambo said during the award ceremony last year. “This was an amazing year for Maryland lacrosse, and I can’t thank the coaches and teammates enough for making this the most memorable experience in my life for my four years at Maryland.”
Three players including Rambo, Reilly and Andrew Whipple are within the top ten category of career goals scored in Terps history cementing the legacy of No. 1.
Like Rambo and Kelly, Whipple scored goals at will in the late 90s and set up his teammates in excellent positions to score as he nearly accounted for 100 assists in his career. The significance of the number also comes with a lot of responsibility as the last seven players to wear numero uno extended the tradition of stellar play at their respective positions starting with Kelly, Rambo, Mike Chanenchuk, Grant Catalino, Joe Walters, Mike Mollot and Whipple.
Chanenchuk helped the Terrapin’s cause by scoring 121 goals, Catalino was a three-time All-American, Walters sits behind Rambo in career goals (153), and Mollot showed his versatility with 95 assists and 172 points during his tenure from 1999-2003.
Each player has played professionally since then as Kelly looks to lead the Terrapins to notch another NCAA championship. Kelly certainly got off to a great start during the first round of the NCAA tournament on May 13 against Robert Morris in College Park. Trailing by two goals in the second half, Kelly scored back-to-back goals to tie the game up and got back into the swing of things. He then scored four goals in total to power past the Colonials by the score of 14-11. Everything has come to fruition so far as No. 1 guided Maryland to a No. 1 seed in the tournament and only missed the mark once with his shots on goal as the Terrapins may repeat as champions for the first time in school history. The Terps will gear up to play Cornell University on May 20 in Annapolis at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.
“We are a resilient group, and we don’t back down to any challenge,” Kelly said. “We love this stuff, and I love this team.”
No. 1 has stood the test of time as an unassuming badge of distinction and consistency that carries the weight of pressure along with it. Kelly seems to be up for the challenge, and even though there is a first for everything in life, Maryland is okay with a number that looks to be a staple of success for generations to come.