Connor Kelly Is 'One' Special Player For Defending Champion Maryland
It's a number that is not taken lightly by the University of Maryland men's lacrosse team.
Not only is the goal to finish the season as the nation's top-ranked team, but the player who wears that number traditionally bears significant responsibility for the program.
So, when head coach John Tillman called Connor Kelly during the summer and asked if he wanted to switch his jersey number from 40 to 1, the All-American midfielder embraced the opportunity. Kelly, a senior, is part of a talented cast of returning players for Maryland, which is the defending NCAA Division I national champions.
"Knowing the tradition and the players who have worn the number, it was a no-brainer," Kelly said about the change. "Matt Rambo, Mike Chanenchuk, Grant Catalino and Joe Walters are some of the legends I think of when I put on this jersey, and to be able to represent them when I step on the field is a complete honor."
Kelly, who has established himself as one of the most talented players in the history of the program, is the seventh consecutive USILA All-American to wear the No. 1 jersey for Maryland, dating back to Andrew Whipple of the 1996-1998 seasons.
Last season, Kelly was named a first-team All-American after starting all 19 games and scoring 46 goals -- the most by a midfielder in Maryland history. In addition, he was ranked eighth nationally in goals scored and was best among all Division I midfielders. He also led the team with six game-winning goals, helping Maryland (16-3 overall, 4-1 in Big Ten Conference) win its first national title in men's lacrosse since 1975.
This year, Kelly plans to take on an even bigger leadership role.
"As a senior captain on the Maryland men's lacrosse team, it is my job to represent myself as well as the university in the best manner possible," Kelly said. "It is a privilege to play for this historic program and represent all the great players before me. With that being said, it is now my job to set the example and emulate what it means to be a Terp every day."
In addition to playing for Maryland, Kelly had been training with the U.S. Men's National Training Team in preparation for the 2018 World Championships. The level of competition has helped him as a player, and the camaraderie of working with so many great players has also been beneficial.
"It has been everything I could have dreamed of," Kelly said. "Not only are these guys the best players in the world, but they are great people as well. Every guy on the team is so positive and friendly it makes playing so much fun. Not to mention, their energy and passion for the game is second to none.
"Being able to play at such a high level and compete against the best players in the world is the reason why I play the game, so I can't wait for our next session in January."
Despite all his success, Kelly has worked hard during the offseason on improving his game, especially his "overall lacrosse IQ." The goals, though, have not changed, and the team always comes first.
"My goals have been the same every year," Kelly said. "They are to help put the team in the best position to have an undefeated season, win the Big Ten regular-season title, win the Big Ten Tournament title and win the national championship. Besides those tangible goals, I intend on being the best teammate and player I can be."
While the national championship has elevated the Maryland men's program to even loftier heights, the team has stayed grounded. This is a new season that will bring about new challenges. Kelly and his teammates are embracing the notion of having a "bull's-eye" on their backs.
"As competitors, we want to face every team when they are at the top of their game, and I like to believe our success has stemmed from the fact we are conditioned to play at our best at all times," Kelly said.
Johns Hopkins (2017 record: 8-7; 3-2 Big Ten Conference)
The Blue Jays lost to Duke in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament, but they have enough firepower to make a deeper run this year.
The team is led by senior attackman Shack Stanwick, who is a two-time USILA All-American honorable mention. The Boys' Latin alum finished 2017 with 26 goals and 21 assists for 47 points and was named second-team All-Big Ten. Stanwick has scored at least one point in all 48 of his career games.
Junior attackman Kyle Marr is also back for head coach Dave Pietramala after scoring 25 goals and adding 20 assists last season. He was an honorable mention USILA All-American and a second-team All-Big Ten selection.
Stanwick and Marr will get support from midfielder Joel Tinney, a second-team USILA All-American and first-team All-Big Ten honoree last season. Tinney finished the season with 19 goals, nine assists and 40 ground balls. Senior Brinton Valis will also help anchor the midfield. He has recorded five goals and three assists during his career and earned Academic All-Big Ten honors.
Loyola (2017 record: 10-6; 6-2 Patriot League)
The Greyhounds fell to Ohio State in the first round of the 2017 NCAA Tournament. Head coach Charley Toomey leads a dangerous team that is poised to win its fourth Patriot League crown in the past five years.
Pat Spencer (Boys' Latin) is one the top attackmen in the nation and was named first-team All-America last season. He finished the year with 28 goals and a school- and Patriot League-record 55 assists. His 83 points are tied for fourth-most in a single season in Loyola history.
Goalie Jacob Stover (McDonogh) leads the defense after starting all 16 games last season. He led the Patriot League and finished fourth in NCAA Division I in goals-against average (7.74). Short-stick defensive midfielder Brian Begley could also make an impact after picking up All-Patriot League honors last season.
Towson (2017 record: 12-5; 4-1 Colonial Athletic Association)
The Tigers had one of the most successful seasons in school history, advancing to the NCAA Tournament semifinals. This year, they have another talented group of players capable of making a deep run for head coach Shawn Nadelen.
Junior Zach Goodrich played in all 17 games as a defensive midfielder and was named second-team All-America. Goodrich finished the season with seven goals and one assist. The Kent Island alum also picked up 47 ground balls and caused 19 turnovers. Alex Woodall (St. Mary's) established himself as one of the best faceoff specialists in the nation. He was an honorable mention All-American last season after winning 188 of 319 draws (.589).
Towson's entire starting close defense returns with Sid Ewell, Chad Patterson and Gray Bodden.
Ewell and Patterson started every game last season, while Bodden missed one start due to injury. He was spelled by Calvin Livingston, who also returns. Towson had the fourth-best defense in Division I last season, allowing 7.65 goals per game.
UMBC (2017 record: 6-8; 4-2 America East)
The Retrievers, who advanced to the America East semifinals last season, have a solid group of players returning for second-year head coach Ryan Moran. Long-stick defensive midfielder Billy O'Hara (South River) led UMBC in ground balls for the second consecutive season with 51 in 2017. He also had 18 caused turnovers.
Defenseman John Tornabene (Archbishop Curley) had a career-best 24 ground balls and caused 15 turnovers. Tornabene will get support from fellow defenseman Jason Brewster, who was named to the America East second team and the league's All-Academic Team and All-Tournament Team. Gunnar Schimoler (South River) will help anchor the midfield after scoring five goals last year.
Navy (2017 record: 6-8; 4-4 Patriot League)
The Midshipmen, who lost to Holy Cross in the Patriot League quarterfinals, need to make up for the loss of All-American defenseman Chris Fennell (Milford, N.J.) and long-stick defensive midfielder Matt Rees. However, junior midfielder Greyson Torain (DeMatha) is ready to help carry the load. Torain tied for the lead with 23 goals and also had 15 assists. He was also a unanimous 2017 first-team All-Patriot League selection. Ryan Wade will lead the attack. He had 13 goals and a team-best 25 assists in 2017. Wade ranked No. 21 nationally, averaging 1.79 assists per game.
Stevenson (2017 record: 14-6; 8-0 Middle Atlantic Conference)
The Mustangs will look to make a deep run in the postseason. Stevenson is led by Dominic DeFazio, who was the IMLCA South Region, ECAC South and MAC Commonwealth Defensive Player of the Year. He started all 20 games and finished with a team-high 44 caused turnovers. DeFazio also had 69 ground balls, which ranked second on Stevenson. Sophomore Justin Burnette (Owings Mills) will also play a key role after being named to the MAC Commonwealth first team last year. He won 62.6 percent of faceoffs (219-350) on the season while picking up a team-best 88 ground balls in 2017.
Photo Credit: Courtesy of Maryland Athletics
Issue 241: January / February 2018
Originally published Jan. 19, 2018