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Monday, May 26, 2008
Instant analysis: NCAA lacrosse championship

By Quint Kessenich
ESPN.com

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Two of the NCAA's most successful programs, two passionate fan bases, a beautiful day in Foxborough and a crowd of over 48,000 in attendance -- it was the recipe for an exciting finish to the season. Syracuse and Johns Hopkins did not disappoint. The Orange looked like the fitter team and ultimately were able to prevail over the defending champs, 13-10. The Blue Jays showed the aftereffects of their emotional win over top-seeded Duke in the semifinals.

How the game was won:

Midfield scoring. Syracuse showed its depth at midfield, as Dan Hardy, Pat Perritt, Brendan Loftus and Steven Brooks each won his individual matchup. Though Johns Hopkins did a nice job of quieting Mike Leveille, the hero of the semifinals, and Kenny Nims, the Blue Jays didn't double-team as much as they should have. The turning point of the game was a five-goal Syracuse run that started in the second quarter and gave the Orange an 8-5 lead. John Desko's squad didn't look back.

With the notable exception of covering Paul Rabil -- the senior Tewaaraton finalist finished with six goals and solidified his spot as the best offensive middie in school history -- Syracuse's defense did an admirable job of shutting down the Blue Jays. Hopkins goaltender Michael Gvozden had a nice first half, notching 14 saves, but it was just a matter of time before Syracuse's attack started finding the corners of the goal.

Syracuse didn't make the tournament last year -- the Orange were 5-8 -- but a coaching shake-up, a change in attitude and an increased focus on defense and conditioning resulted in one of the sport's most dramatic year-to-year turnarounds.

Player of the game:

Junior Dan Hardy always has had great ability; he was highly touted coming out of high school but has fought injuries for much of his Syracuse career. For Syracuse to win a national championship, Hardy would have to play well -- and he did, notching a hat trick. Hardy wears the legendary No. 22, popularized by Gary Gait and the Powell brothers, and lived up to that number today.

Unsung players of the game:

Junior Matt Abbott and freshman Joel White did a lot of the dirty work -- clearing the ball, grabbing ground balls -- that set their team up for success. Abbott, White and Syracuse's defense have gone unheralded this year, but they were key in Monday's win.

Stat of the game:

Hopkins' 23 turnovers. The Blue Jays made some uncharacteristic decisions (possibly the result of fatigue), and when they did, they found themselves surrounded by Syracuse jerseys. The Orange outhustled Hopkins and forced a lot of those mistakes.

What's next for each team:

Syracuse: The Orange lose Leveille and a few defenders but should expect to be in the top five. I expect freshman goalie John Galloway to make a quantum leap from what was an impressive rookie campaign. He'll be a star. Syracuse should benefit from the formation of the Big East lacrosse league (which should be announced in the next few weeks, but won't go into effect until 2010).

Johns Hopkins: The Blue Jays lose Rabil and a slew of senior talent. Dave Pietramala's group looks like a solid quarterfinalist.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com.