Local men return with Maryland for NCAA lacrosse semifinals

Young Matt Rambo played backyard goalie. Outside his family's Glenside home or at the park down the street, his older brother Rich and Rich's friends would shoot on Matt for hours, honing their lacrosse skills.

Those neighborhood practice sessions also helped Matt grow as a player, the Maryland attackman said Wednesday in the middle of a busy week of preparation for this weekend's NCAA semifinals.

The junior will be back home in Philadelphia on Friday morning, practicing with his team at Lincoln Financial Field. Maryland (16-2) is set to take on Brown (16-2) there at 2:30 p.m. Saturday.

Other Terps returning home to the Philadelphia area are senior attack Tyler Brooks, junior faceoff specialist Jon Garino, senior defenseman Ryan Lehman and freshman defenseman Curtis Corley.

As an area native and huge Eagles fan - his favorite player is former safety Brian Dawkins - Rambo said he feels comfortable in that stadium.

It showed in last year's Final Four, also at the Linc. The La Salle High School graduate logged six goals and three assists over the course of the weekend. Denver ended up beating the Terrapins, 10-5, in the finals.

"I think I played so well last year because I was super excited. But I would be super excited to win in Baltimore or Foxborough as well," Rambo said. "It turns out to be that the last couple games I've played in Philly, I've played pretty well. It does feel like home. I just have a bigger crowd, more family members, more friends."

Rambo scored four goals in Maryland's 13-7 win over Syracuse last week, helping the team advance to the Final Four for the fifth time in six years. Rambo has become the squad's leading scorer this season, recording 39 goals and 24 assists.

"I think my vision and being able to see the ball a little bit more has [improved] from last year," Rambo said. "I think just being an older player, being a veteran."

Back in kindergarten, Rambo began playing for the Abington Lacrosse Club. His father, Rich, was a coach. His older brother, also Rich, played and would go on to become a midfielder for Rutgers.

Matt Rambo said he looked up to the many Abington lacrosse alumni who went on to play at the Division I level. That was his goal, too.

At Abington Lacrosse Club, he met one of his best friends, Austin Pifani. Pifani is now a defenseman for North Carolina, which will face Loyola Maryland in the other semifinal game at noon Saturday. Rambo said he would love to take on Pifani, an Abington grad, in the finals, but he didn't want to get ahead of himself.

Rambo began his high school career at Abington before enrolling at La Salle, a decision La Salle coach Bill Leahy called a gift back in 2011.

With a shot once clocked at 102 mph, Rambo was named first-team all-state and all-league four times, and led La Salle to the PIAA state championship in 2013. He finished his senior season with 80 goals and 37 assists. One of the nation's top prospects, he committed to Maryland as a junior, choosing the school over North Carolina and Virginia.

"Probably the biggest memory would be winning the state championship," Rambo said of his high school years. "We were so powerful, and we were so focused and locked in."

For all his success in high school, Rambo said it has been at Maryland that he has come into his own. But he still finds inspiration close to home.

"All my family always motivates me. My brother has been texting me a lot recently," Rambo said. "All this week, my dad and my brother said they can barely work. They're so excited to watch me play. Having it in my backyard, it's awesome for them."

emccarthy@philly.com

@ErinMcPSU