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February lacrosse isn't pretty. It's defined by snow banks, frozen fans, unforced turnovers, rookie mistakes and teams searching to find chemistry and an identity.
Coaches are still evaluating personnel and installing systems. But with Memorial Day being the concrete finish line, teams have added games in February, instead of mid-week contests in April.
"You don't want to limit a team in February," says Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan. "You want to let them find themselves. Developing a clarity of purpose and sense of individual roles takes time."
Let's take a closer look at some of the key matchups on Saturday.
The nation's two best midfields collide. Dom Starsia and Virginia will roll out Shamel Bratton, Rhamel Bratton, Chris LaPierre, Colin Briggs, John Haldy and freshman Rob Emery. All can fly. Stony Brook counters with Kevin Crowley, the nation's top point-producing midfielder from 2010. The Cavaliers' Bray Malphrus draws that assignment. But don't sleep on Seawolves Robbie Campbell (20,17) and Timmy Trenkle (10,10).
It's a rematch of the NCAA quarterfinals from 2010. Both teams can light up the scoreboard, and both have serious questions to answer on defense. Under/Over is 27.5 goals. Seawolves face-off man Adam Rand is the wildcard. It'll be interesting to see if his effectiveness is hindered by the new faceoff rules, which prevent him from using his right elbow to clamp the ball, and prohibit him from clamping and holding the ball for an eternity.
No time for self congratulations for the Buckeyes after their noteworthy win over North Carolina last Saturday. Coach Nick Myers is well aware of the challenges that UMass presents.
"Amherst is a different environment," he says. "30-foot snow banks, cold weather, a hard and frozen surface, plus UMass returns proven playmakers with Art Kell and Will Manny."
Right now we don't know what the North Carolina win is worth. But after a 7-8 season in 2010, it's safe to say the Buckeyes are headed in the right direction. Myers has tapped into Baltimore talent and relies on three freshman from the MIAA in defender Joe Meurer (McDonogh), goalie Greg Dutton (Calvert Hall) and attackman Tyler Frederick (McDonogh). Meurer, who has an outstanding motor, was the league's best defenseman last spring, Dutton is extremely athletic and active outside the crease and Frederick can carry the rock, makes astute decisions and compliments sophomores Jeff Tundo and Logan Schuss perfectly.
Maryland skipper John Tillman gets his first taste of this beltway rivalry. The challenges for the first-year coach are many. "Getting to know the guys, and know their strengths comes first," said Tillman. "We have an older group so you don't want to change to much. If we ask them to overthink, it'll slow them down, and that surrenders their experience."
I watched Georgetown in Jacksonville, Fla., last Sunday. The Hoyas are committed to an up-tempo style. "The Hoyas are strong up the middle with a senior goalie (Jack Davis), defender Barney Ehrmann (Gilman), face-off man Brian Tabb and scorer Rickey Mirabito," said Tillman. "They have the firepower to light it up."
A Hoyas upset hopes hinge on goaltending and face-offs. Ground balls will determine tempo; Maryland would prefer to play this game in conventional fashion while Georgetown wants to create frenetic transition. The Hoyas' best vacuum cleaners are Ehrmann, Tabb and attackman Travis Comeau. The trio must scoop up 15 loose balls for Georgetown to win.
Georgetown appears to have a stronger team chemistry this year after watching the NCAA playoffs from home for the third consecutive season. They played reckless on defense against Jacksonville and want to create transition from turnovers. "We have to be ready to handle Georgetown's pressure on the perimeter and attack it," says Tillman.
The Greyhounds trailed Navy 7-3 at half last week but dominated ground balls in the final 30 minutes, beating the Mids 9-8. Loyola isnt built to maul or dominate, as a group they aren't overly athletic. They will win ballgames with execution and effort. The ECAC appears to be a three team race between Denver, Ohio State and Loyola.
Midfielder Josh Hawkins is one exception, he has ACC speed and power, is a force who creates possessions off the wings on face-offs. He's raw offensively in half-field sets, but he is the engine that drives the Greyhounds. Attackman Mike Sawyer is their go-to guy. Showing no rust from a year away from lacrosse, he's dynamic and a difference maker.
This game is simple -- possessions determine the winner. Loyola has the edge on paper with face-off man John Schiavone and longstick Scott Ratcliff.
Hofstra holds a subtle advantage, having played two games already. Princeton is playing its first. But the Pride have not been scoring goals like I would have guessed. They return all three attackmen (Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz) from a team that lost in the NCAA first round to Maryland last May. Both Colgate and Sacred Heart played keep-away. "We still have a long way to go," says Pride coach Seth Tierney. "I think we assumed it would just click. We have to tighten some things up."
Hofstra added three key transfers to its roster in the offseason. Ian Braddish (UNC), Zach Pall (Quinnipiac) and Steve Serling (Lafayette). Serling graduated from Lafayette and is pursuing an advanced degree at Hofstra. "Steve is poised, a cool character. He understands the flow, and has a mature lacrosse mind," says Tierney. Serling had seven points against Sacred Heart.
Princeton, a first-round loser at home to Notre Dame in the NCAA tournament, returns a stellar cast of defensemen with Chad Weidmaier, John Cunningham, Long Ellis and Jonathan Meyers. Goalie Tyler Fiorito (McDonogh) is on the short list of elite goalies nationally. The Tigers beat Hofstra 17-14 a year ago, I expect a much lower scoring game on Saturday.
I've always felt that a team shows the biggest leap of improvement from Week 1 to Week 2, and in the game after its first loss. Johns Hopkins took a positive step on Tuesday and pulverized a disorganized Delaware defense. The Jays shot .475 and scored on 18 of 36 possessions, which is terrific. In its opener against Towson, JHU scored on 10 of 27 possessions. Towson tried to hold the ball and shrink the game.
Coach Dave Pietramala and every youth league coach in America has been stressing ground balls in practice. Freshman midfielder Phil Castranova and graduate student Ben Smith are upgrades in that department from 2010. Sophomore goalie Pierce Bassett looks sharp; the game is slowing down for the Arizona native.
Siena graduated an excellent senior class last spring, and lost its opener 20-6 to Duke. Expect the Jays to roll. I'm not sure what their ceiling is yet, still have questions in regard to team speed, midfield production and team defense. But it's fair to say Hopkins could open the year 5-1 or even 6-0. Confidence is key for a young team.Quint Kessenich covers lacrosse for the ESPN family of networks, Insidelacrosse.com and writes his W2W4 column weekly for The Baltimore Sun.