When the seedings were about to be announced Sunday for the National Collegiate Athletic Association Division I lacrosse tournament, there were few coaches who wanted to play Towson State University.
"That's because they have some great individual talent on that team," Loyola coach Dave Cottle said Sunday. "They remind me of us. This isn't a knock on their coaching staff, but they have a lot of potential, and if the team ever puts it together, they can be a very good lacrosse team."
In one week, No. 11 Towson (11-3) has put it together, enough to win in the opening round against No. 6 Virginia and the quarterfinals against No. 3 Princeton.
The late-season surge has the Tigers in their first Final Four, where they will meet No. 7 Maryland (10-4) Saturday (3 p.m.) at the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y. Top-ranked North Carolina (14-0) will meet No. 5 Syracuse (12-2) in the other semifinal, Saturday at noon.
Towson hopes its postseason play benefits recruiting and gives the school an edge when future playoff brackets are constructed.
"The academic standards are high here, and we've struggled with it, even losing recruits to private schools," said Towson coach Carl Runk. "In the last five years, we've made some gains and gotten some real good athletes here. But there is nothing like this kind of exposure."
Towson State's program is no stranger to nationa championships. Seventeen years ago, the Tigers, under Runk, defeated Hobart, 18-17, in Geneva, N.Y., for the combined NCAA Division II-III championship.
But since moving to Division I in 1980, the Tigers have ha trouble getting into the tournament. Possibly the biggest snub came last year, when the Tigers finished 11-2 and were not invited by the selection committee.
Towson was one of four borderline playoff teams this year.
"I think this puts us over the hump," said Towson attackman John Blatchley. "We have proved we can play with any team in the country, and we have capitalized on our opportunity."
Towson, returning eight starters, was expected to have a strong season, but losses to Maryland, Johns Hopkins and Loyola during the regular season hurt its playoff chances. In the Loyola game, Towson had an 8-1 lead but lost, 14-12.
Towson was slowed mostly on defense, where three transfers were added, defenders Kyle Kernan (Nassau Community College) and Steve Kisslinger (Adelphi) and goalie Richard Betcher (Nassau).
Since allowing 17 goals in the first game against Maryland, Betcher has recorded 177 saves. And Kisslinger leads the long stickmen in ground balls with 97.
The offense has been strong all season. The Tigers have two of the best attackmen in the country, Glenn Smith (37 goals, 10 assists) and Blatchley (16, 19). Rob Shek (31, 8) is considered by some coaches to be the best midfielder in the country. Fellow midfielder Lindsay Dixon (9, 11) is an adequate scorer, and Tony Millon (13 goals) creates opportunities with his hustling.