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Men’s lacrosse: Ohio State to square off against familiar face in NCAA finals

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Ohio State senior attack Eric Fannell scored five goals in the Buckeyes dramatic comeback 11-10 overtime victory over Maryland on April 22 at Ohio Stadium. Credit: Courtesy of OSU Athletics

WHAT: NCAA Men’s Lacrosse Championship – No. 3 Ohio State vs. No. 1 Maryland at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.

HOW TO WATCH: ESPN2 at 1 p.m. Streaming on WatchESPN app and ESPN3.com

It all comes down to this.

A matchup of Big Ten rivals who have battled neck-and-neck all season will determine the next NCAA men’s lacrosse champion.

The No. 3 Ohio State men’s lacrosse team (16-4) has battled No. 1 Maryland (15-3) twice this season, edging out the Terrapins at home in an 11-10 overtime thriller on April 22, and losing 10-9 in the finals of the Big Ten tournament in Columbus.

After the team lost to Maryland in the tournament finals, coach Nick Myers and the rest of his unit believed that if they played to the level they were capable of, this season would end in a matchup between them and their East Coast rivals.

“We have a ton of respect for Maryland,” Myers said. “We felt that night, we looked at each other and without knowing how this was going to turn out, ‘Hey, we’re going to see these guys again if we take care of business.’”

Though the teams have built up a rivalry through their close, competitive games this season, Myers said that contempt for the opposition will not be the driving factor behind their play on Monday. Instead, respect for the opposition and the desire to play their best possible lacrosse would be what pushes the Buckeyes to play well.

“You have to play your best lacrosse if you want to try to go out there and beat Maryland,” Myers said. “I think that that, more than contempt, is what it brings out.”

The players echoed Myers’ sentiment.

“The whole team is excited to play Maryland again,” senior attackman Eric Fannell said. “They’re a very, very good team, as coach Myers said. We have a lot of respect for them. And every time we play them, we play to our best ability and so do they. Big Ten matchup again. Grudge match.”

The two teams will enter the game coming off a pair of narrow victories in the semifinals. OSU edged out Towson 11-10, and Maryland hung on late against fifth-seeded Denver to win 9-8.

Though both games were close, and relatively low-scoring, the Buckeyes are prepared for a game that could be more of an offensive show, taking on a team that averaged the 10th-most goals per game in the NCAA this past season (12.67 goals per game).

“They play a good team offense,” Myers said. “They’ve got a good front six — as good a front six as there is in lacrosse. We feel strongly in ours, and I think you’re going to see a collision tomorrow as you did in the first couple games.”

The matchup in the Big Ten tournament championship game did not prove to be quite the offensive show many expected, until late in the game when a total of nine goals were scored in the fourth quarter in an eventual 10-9 Maryland victory.

Myers believes that for the Buckeyes to find success against the Terrapins on Monday, the Buckeyes will need to put together an offensive effort capable of keeping up with their opponents.

“That was a heavyweight slugfest that you saw in the Big Ten championship,” Myers said. “We’re chasing our best offense, and for us to accomplish the ultimate goal, we’ll have to do that. I think Maryland’s going to bring that out in us.”

But this time, the stakes are a bit higher than they were the last time these two teams met.

It is no longer a Big Ten title on the line. Now it’s for the NCAA championship.

In the history of OSU lacrosse, the team has never made it to this point. It had never even made it to the semifinals before this season. And now, on the doorstep of history for the program, seniors like midfielder Jake Withers believe that while the program has vastly surpassed expectation in their tenure, the end goal has still not yet been reached.

“We came a long way since my freshman year four years ago, and we’ve stumbled and we’ve made some steps. I feel like this year, you know, the progression that we’ve made to championship weekend is a culmination of all those things together,” Withers said. “With that said, we’re not done. Although we made a championship weekend and championship game, we want to make history and be the first Buckeye lacrosse team to bring the trophy back to Columbus.”

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