Tewaaraton Award Watch: Six locals in the mix for college lacrosse’s version of the Heisman Trophy

Published 3/31/2023 5:30 a.m. EDT

Isabella Peterson, a Hereford grad now playing at James Madison, unleashes a shot against Virginia.

As Maryland men’s lacrosse coach John Tillman said a few weeks ago of the college lacrosse season, with perspective that can come with being 53 years old and winning two national championships in the past six seasons, “It’ll be over before we know it. The older you get, the more you realize maybe the days are long, but the weeks and the months are short.”

Indeed, the season moves quickly. For most college lacrosse teams that don’t make the postseason, the season lasts three months. (Maryland, ranked second nationally, will likely play a bit longer, but the point remains.) At the start of the season, players are dodging snowflakes in chilly February temperatures and playing midweek games. Then, by spring break and the turn to April, they’re halfway through the regular season with only few traditional Saturdays left of guaranteed competition before Selection Sunday for the NCAA tournament in a month.

The meat of the lacrosse season has arrived, which means a few things.

First, conference play is getting going. The stakes of each outcome are rising. The seventh-ranked Johns Hopkins men (8-3, 1-0 Big Ten), for example, host a key Big Ten game against No. 9 Rutgers (7-2, 0-1) on Saturday. Then the Blue Jays have only three more conference matchups. Every week from here, every notch in the win or loss column matters a little more as teams jockey for postseason berths and positioning for May Madness.

By this point of the season, with enough games also in the rearview mirror, some of the game’s best players have also established themselves, marking a good time to handicap the races for lacrosse’s equivalent of the Heisman Trophy. Those are the men’s and women’s Tewaaraton Awards, which will be handed out in Washington, D.C., on June 1 following the national championship games on Memorial Day weekend.

As usual, several local products from Baltimore, or those playing for area teams such as Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Loyola, figure into the Tewaaraton watch picture this year. Here’s a look.

Men’s watch

Duke attackman Brennan O’Neill and Notre Dame’s Pat Kavanagh, a pair of Long Islanders, and Virginia’s Connor Shellenberger (St. Anne’s-Belfield School) lead the race for the men’s Tewaaraton Award, but there are a couple locals in the conversation.

1. Matt Brandau (Boys’ Latin), Yale, Sr. A

Brandau, a Timonium native and the runner-up for Ivy League Player of the Year in 2022 after a 99-point season, took a leave of absence from Yale in the fall so he could keep his eligibility to play one more season next year (a decision that stems from pandemic interruptions to his early career and Ivy League policies). Brandau spent his free time doing an internship (as a teaching assistant for billionaire and Yale lacrosse alum Joe Tsai in the Yale law school) and getting in tiptop shape for the spring. The senior attackman has been performing like the time off and preparation helped. He’s leading Yale with 27 points on 13 goals and 14 assists, but Yale has a 3-3 record and is 0-2 in league so far. If the team performance doesn’t improve, it will likely hurt Brandau’s chances for one of the five Tewaaraton finalist nods come May.

2. Brett Makar, Maryland, Gr. D

Makar’s skills and importance to Maryland’s success are obvious. The standout defenseman wears the Terps’ highly-regarded jersey No. 1, the first defenseman to do so since Todd Harrison way back in 1993. Makar had 29 ground balls and 14 caused turnovers and has already been named Big Ten defensive player of the week twice for the No. 2 Terps. Beyond that, he’s simply a 6-foot-1, 210-pound rock in their defensive schemes, much like junior defenseman Ajax Zappitello next to him. But Makar faces some long odds to win the Tewaaraton. A defenseman has never won the men’s award, and the last 12 winners have been attackmen. Traditionally, postseason performance can boost the chances of a finalist representing a team that wins the national title or makes a final four run. It’s entirely possible Makar could benefit from that situation this year. If so, he’d make history.

3. Connor Maher (Calvert Hall), North Carolina, Gr. SSDM

If defensemen face an uphill climb to win the Tewaaraton, the specialized short-stick defensive midfielder is looking up at Mount Kilimanjaro before the conversation even begins. Even being a top player for his position and having 24 ground balls and 11 caused turnovers, it’s unlikely Maher, a two-time team captain for North Carolina, wins the Tewaaraton. But should the No. 12 Tar Heels (7-3) make some noise in the latter part of the season (or in the NCAA tournament, he could land on the short list of 25 men’s and women’s nominees for the awards that will be named next month.

Other notables: Dutch Furlong (Gilman), Bucknell, Jr. A; Troy Hettinger (Marriotts Ridge), Jacksonville, Gr. M; Tim Marcille, Johns Hopkins, Sr. G; Jayson Tingue, UMBC, Jr. G; Cam Wyers, Loyola, Gr. D; Ajax Zappitello, Maryland, Jr. D

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Women’s watch

Similarly on the women’s side, the heavy favorites reside out of town, but at the least there are several locals with a chance at landing among the five Tewaaraton finalists who will be named in early May.

1. Isabella Peterson (Hereford), James Madison, Sr. A

James Madison is 10-1, ranked fifth in the country, and its only loss came to then No. 1 North Carolina in their season opener. The Dukes have since beat nationally-ranked Maryland, Johns Hopkins, Florida and Virginia. And Peterson, a score-against-anyone threat and a Sparks native, is a big reason why.

Just check out this goal from James Madison’s win over Virginia last year:

That was just one Peterson’s six goals that day.

As a senior attackman this year, she ranks fourth nationally in Division I women’s lacrosse with 3.91 goals per game. Peterson trails only Tewaaraton Award front-runners Izzy Scane (Northwestern) and Ellie Masera (Stony Brook), and Bryant’s Kenna Kaut. And Peterson’s not putting up these stats in a vacuum. James Madison is one of the nation’s top teams. She should be a Tewaaraton finalist at minimum come year-end.

2. Eloise Clevenger (Marriotts Ridge), Maryland, Jr. A

The typically high-scoring Maryland offense had a slow start to the season as it began life without Aurora Cordingley and her 67 goals and 51 assists of production from 2022. Clevenger assumed the primary initiator role and appears to have gotten more comfortable and effective as the year has progressed. She has 16 goals and 29 assists for a team-high 45 points and is putting 78.6% of her shots on goal, after only putting 53% on cage through the first five games. It’s probably not a coincidence the tenth-ranked Terps (9-3) have now won six in a row, averaging 16 goals per game during the stretch, after starting the season 3-3 and averaging 11. A sign of Clevenger’s importance? In the second half of Wednesday night’s game against No. 17 Princeton, she drew a face guard from the Tigers defense, which attempted to shut her totally out of the game. It didn’t quite work. Clevenger finished three goals and four assists, and the attention on her opened up opportunities for scorers like senior Libby May (35 goals this season) late in the 15-11 win.

3. Ashlyn McGovern (St. Paul’s), Virginia, Gr. A

McGovern is the top goal scorer for 11th-ranked Virginia (8-3) and ranks eighth nationally with 3.73 goals per game — and it doesn’t matter the strength of the opponent. She has scored 41 times this season, including half of the Cavaliers’ goals in a 10-8 loss to No. 5 James Madison a few weeks ago and another four in a loss against another elite opponent, North Carolina, earlier this month.

Other notables: Sydni Black, Loyola, Jr. A; Abby Bosco, Maryland, Gr. D; Ellie Curry (Notre Dame Prep), Denver, Sr. M; Katie Detwiler, Loyola, Gr. D; Marge Donovan (McDonogh), Maryland, Gr. D; Maddie Jenner (McDonogh), Duke, Gr. A/Draw; Libby May (Hereford), Maryland, Sr. A; Trinity McPherson (Catonsville), Denver, Gr. D; Emily Nalls (Glenelg), North Carolina; Sr. D; Lauren Spence, Loyola, So. G; Emily Sterling (John Carroll), Maryland, Sr. G; Samantha White (Dulaney), Northwestern, So. D; Jillian Wilson (Gerstell Academy), Loyola, Gr. M

Games to watch

The area game of the week will be played at 3 p.m. Saturday at Homewood Field when the Johns Hopkins men face Rutgers. ESPNU will televise the matchup live.

There’s a pair of Big Ten games in College Park this weekend, too. You might see some maize and blue around town as the second-ranked Maryland men (6-2, 1-0 Big Ten) host unranked Michigan (4-4, 0-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday and the tenth-ranked Terps women (9-3, 1-0) host the No. 15 Wolverines (9-4, 2-1) at 1 p.m. Sunday.

End lines

Maryland sophomore Dante Trader Jr., a defensive back on the Terps’ football team and former McDonogh multi-sport athlete, continues to impress in his first season of college lacrosse. The short-stick defensive midfielder scored twice and caused two turnovers in Maryland’s 13-10 win over then-No. 9 Penn State last Saturday and was named Big Ten defensive player of the week for the second time this season. (Just like his teammate Brett Makar.)

Corey McLaughlin is a veteran writer and editor who has covered sports in Baltimore for a decade, including for Baltimore magazine, USA Lacrosse Magazine and several other publications.