Maryland defenseman Goran Murray dons No. 44, sort of like another eastern Pennsylvania product who arrived in College Park as a long pole and wound up entrenched as a close defenseman for the bulk of his career.
It’s no coincidence Murray is wearing the old number of Brett Schmidt, a second-team All-America pick last year. Coach John Tillman planned it that way, an attempt to tie the Terrapins’ past to the present.
“Goran’s been terrific so far, and I think he is probably ahead of where Brett was, at least at this point,” Tillman said. “Then we’ll see what happens. He’s got a long way to go to get in Brett’s category, because I think the way Brett finished was so impressive.”
Murray, meanwhile, is off to a fine start for the No. 9 Terps (5-2, 1-1 ACC), who face No. 2 Virginia (8-1, 0-0) at Byrd Stadium on Saturday. He’s started every game and received some help from Schmidt along the way.
They got to know each other last year, when Schmidt still was playing at Maryland for an eventual national runner-up and Murray was at the Haverford School. Their shared Philadelphia-area roots provided a common bond beyond lacrosse.
Murray already was eager to arrive at Maryland, which he knew would be far different than what he was accustomed to in high school. The Terps were the only ACC program to recruit him, and the possibility of playing in the perennially tough league appealed to him.
“I go from knowing the whole school at a small private school to knowing a handful of people at a huge school,” Murray said. “I wanted that experience to venture through. At first it was tough, but settling in after the first semester was awesome.”
The adjustment wasn’t entirely easy for Murray, who didn’t even pick up the sport until high school. He played both pole and close defense at Haverford, and initially projected as a long stick midfielder. But the loss of three starting close defensemen (including Schmidt) to graduation led Maryland to change its plans.
“I know it is hard for people making that transition from high school to college, so I really tried to help him out and give him some advice and give him some heads-ups on things I struggled with my first six months in college,” Schmidt said.
Murray didn’t hesitate to seek out information from the Terps’ coaching staff, either.
“We called him the Riddler because he asked so many questions,” defensive coordinator Kevin Warne said. “It’s paid off, and he certainly has done a good job of trying to understand what we do and everything like that.”
The first semester was every bit the challenge Murray expected. Once home for winter break, he reflected on how much harder he needed to work to thrive in his first year.
That’s led to even greater advances. Murray scored his first career goal in Saturday’s loss at North Carolina, and his athleticism has helped the Terps solve some issues on the defensive end.
“He’s been thrust into a big position for the team,” Schmidt said. “I’ve been watching some of their games, and you can tell he’s very athletic, pretty smart and playing smart. That’s all going to come with time. He’s been doing very well with the system we play at Maryland.”
Not to mention living up to the history of his jersey number.
“Between me and him and if there’s another [Pennsylvania] guy coming, get this 44 [thing] going,” Murray said. “I’m going to keep the number for the rest of my four years. I just think it’s a great thing that he helped me in subtle ways to transition.”