No break for college lax seniors, fans of game

Walking away from the 2007 college season, it's time to say goodbye to the Class of 2007 … or is it? My strongest memories from 2007 include:

• Albany upsets Johns Hopkins on Homewood Field and starts the year 11-0. That same weekend has Army toppling Syracuse and Drexel slaying Virginia.

• Duke returns to the field against Dartmouth. Koskinen Stadium is packed on a gorgeous day in Durham, N.C. Parents, fans and the student body rise to their feet for an extended ovation to greet the players. You can see the joy as the team sprints out of the blow-up tunnel.

• Loyola beats Duke in San Diego.

• UMass midifelder Brett Garber's hat trick against Syracuse in his final game on his grandfather's field.

• Duke and Virginia battle in the ACC finals.

• Notre Dame sweeps the GWLL.

• Cornell beats Duke, Syracuse and Princeton.

• A struggling Syracuse defense chasing Colgate in frustration. The up-and-coming Red Raiders beat the Orange in the Dome.

• The NCAA Tournament bracket is released. The two best teams are in the top portion of the bracket. That would prove to be costly in three weeks.

• UMBC upsets Maryland at Byrd Stadium. Delaware scores seven straight in Charlottesville, Va. Brendan Cannon explodes to the goal as the Hoyas beat Princeton in overtime. Lightning and rain nearly derail Hopkins at home against Notre Dame. Albany takes Cornell to the wire. Carolina gets revenge on Navy. A week later, Zack Greer and Matt Danowski net 10 points apiece in the quarterfinals against the Tar Heels.

• The semifinal game No. 1 between Johns Hopkins and Delaware was excruciatingly boring. That's why it was a masterful performance by the Blue Jays. If you struggled with the pace, then you'll love MLL. Hopkins was able to neutralize faceoff ace Alex Smith and the Blue Hens never ran. Hopkins coasted to the finish line; it was not a taxing win. It was hard on the eyes. It's amazing how bland and boring some games can be, and yet a half-hour later we were treated to 60 minutes of playmaking.

• The second semifinal, between Duke and Cornell, was a classic. The Blue Devils nearly squanders a seven-goal lead. Cornell makes a run. Brian Clayton ties it with 17 seconds. Zack Greer handles a perfect pass and converts with three ticks left for the win. The atmosphere at M&T Bank Stadium is electric.

I'll never forget a proud, classy Cornell team saluting its fans and pep band after the semifinal defeat. It was the essence of college sports.

The Big Red walked slowly off the field in two lines -- trying to stay together for as long as possible. That was a team.

"I was proud to walk out there today with this team," coach Jeff Tambroni said. "And I was proud to walk off the field with them."

Meanwhile, in a nearby locker room, Duke was exhausted. Players were cramping in the tropical heat of Charm City. The Blue Devils didn't practice on Sunday. That was a first for me in 13 years covering the event.

On Monday I expected a slow start from the Blue Devils, but I would never have guessed it would take them 30 minutes to flush the lactic acid from their legs. Hopkins got a head start and held off a furious Duke rally.

Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala crafted a terrific game plan for Danowski and Greer. Hopkins claimed it was the "forgotten" team of championship weekend. Whatever. They have great players, who finally understood themselves.

Let the 2007 season stand as an example -- it's not where you are in March or even April that matters. What's most important is how you're playing in May. Delaware lost five of six in midseason, yet it righted the ship and made a historical run.

Hopkins dropped three in a row in late March. A players-only meeting after a lethargic loss to North Carolina changed the course of the Blue Jays' season. It is at that gathering that Hopkins' "Band of Brothers" mantra was created.

And you know the Duke story.

Memorial Day used to be the end. Thanks for coming out, see you next February. Years ago, college players would fade into the oblivion of club lacrosse. But now with Major League Lacrosse, they transition seamlessly into the professional ranks. It marks a new beginning for them and an opportunity for young fans.

Last Saturday at Georgetown, the Washington Bayhawks beat New Jersey in overtime 17-16. Virginia's Kyle Dixon delivered the best midfield performance in MLL history from a player not named Gait.

"There's a big difference in conditioning this year," said Bayhawks coach Scott Hiller. "He worked out with Jay Dyer during the offseason and it shows. He's so strong off the dodge and can push the alley right- or left-handed. He'll be an all-star this summer."

He might be league MVP if he can match Saturday's production.

New Jersey got four goals from Georgetown's Scott Urick. "He's such a smart crease attackman," said Pride coach Peter Jacobs. "Once a defender turns his head away from Scott, he's dead. He can create a passing lane or find the seam in the defense. He has a sixth sense."

Major League Lacrosse has been around for seven seasons, which is hard to believe. The westward expansion of 2006 was a resounding success. Franchises in L.A., San Francisco, Denver and Chicago have all been met with fan support and enthusiasm. Chicago picked up its first win in franchise history last weekend. Coach Lelan Rogers and assistant GM Michael Culver grabbed a bunch of young midfielders at last week's collegiate draft (Penn State's Pat Heim, Delaware's Jordan Hall and Dan Deckelbaum and Navy's Billy Looney). Heim, the No. 1 overall pick, scored four goals in his MLL debut -- a win over Denver.

Two goalies were taken in the first round of the 2007 draft: Kip Turner of Virginia and Matt McMonagle of Cornell. Welcome to lacrosse on No-Doze. The shot clock and one less long-pole contribute to a game filled with action. Goaltenders feel the wrath for 60 minutes, often facing 50 shots in a game.

The fast tempo has led to an evolution of the goaltending position in MLL.

"Guys tend to sit back on the goal line," said Boston coach and former Cannons keeper Billy Daye. "That was a reflection of the way Sal LoCascio played. There's less cutting down the angle. You see guys waiting for the ball more, playing the percentages."

Philadelphia is the defending champion and the team to beat this summer. Long Island looks refreshed and reloaded. Washington has a talented sophomore class with Dixon, Matt Ward, Billy McGlone, Ian Healy and a goalie who can win it all in Chris Garrity.

Eleven games will be shown this summer on ESPN2 HD. The production has helmet cams on both goalies, a shot-speed graphic, a Telestrator and four players wearing mics. It should be cutting-edge stuff. Get off the beach and check it out in person or on TV.

Quint Kessenich covers college and professional lacrosse for ESPN. He can be reached at quint@insidelacrosse.com. ESPN.com is working with Inside Lacrosse to provide you with news and analysis. Click here for more coverage.