Shhh! It's a secret: N. Carolina's 'other' No. 1 could go all way

Bill Tanton

March 25, 1993|By Bill Tanton

The University of North Carolina is the No. 1-ranked lacross team in the country. At Chapel Hill, N.C., there is very little rejoicing over that.

Carolina, of course, is a basketball school, and coach Dean Smith's team is the No. 1 seed in the East Regional in the NCAA basketball tournament.

Carolina (30-4) is a 12 1/2 -point favorite over Arkansas in the semifinals tomorrow night at the Meadowlands. It will be no surprise if the Heels win the national championship.

Carolina's lacrosse team could also win the NCAA championship come Memorial Day at College Park.

This reminds me of 1989, when North Carolina went to Byrd Stadium for the lacrosse Final Four with Syracuse (the eventual champion), Johns Hopkins and Maryland.

"How do you feel about the pressure you'll be under?" Willy Scroggs, then the Carolina coach, was asked.

"I feel good about it," said Scroggs, a graduate of Baltimore City College and Johns Hopkins and now an assistant athletic director at Carolina.

"Maryland," Scroggs said, "is the host team so the crowd will be pulling for them to win. Syracuse is the defending champion so they're expected to win. Hopkins is expected to win every game they play. And at Chapel Hill they don't even know we're playing in this thing."

No doubt Carolina supporters are just as indifferent to the Heels' current lacrosse situation, including tomorrow's game at Maryland. If they are, it suits coach Dave Klarmann fine.

Klarmann (UNC, '77) is in his third year as coach. He won the NCAA championship his first year. His record is 34-3, which is as spiffy as it gets in any sport.

This year, in the preseason, Syracuse was No. 1 in both the coaches' poll and in The Baltimore Sun poll. But in a month's time the 6-0 Tar Heels have beaten Syracuse (14-10), Loyola (17-8) and defending NCAA champion Princeton (7-5) and leap-frogged into the No. 1 spot.

The bearded Klarmann, however, is a man who refuses to deal in hoopla, conjecture or speculation. I should have known better than to ask him to compare Syracuse, Loyola and Princeton.

"I'm very bad at that sort of thing," he said yesterday.

"How about your game this week at Maryland?"

"Maryland always, always plays us hard and tough up there," Klarmann said. "Maryland has great size. They have a goalie big enough to play nose tackle [Matt Back, 6 feet 2, 230 pounds]. I just hope my squirty little guys aren't intimidated when they see the size of the Maryland players. That happens to teams, you know."

Nobody else is worried about Klarmann's squirty guys. The Heels have more seniors (16, including All-America co-captain Alex Martin from Gilman, and John Webster, a Boys' Latin grad who plays attack and midfield) than any team in the country. They have earned their No. 1 ranking, although Klarmann seems uncomfortable with that.

"I don't think anyone knows who's the best team in the country," he said. "There are times when I still don't know who we are."

There has never been a college lacrosse season like this one because of the snow, wet weather, postponements and site changes. Princeton has played "home" games against Virginia at Loyola College and against North Carolina at Rutgers. Towson State's "home" game with Penn State last week was played at Navy.

Carolina, because of its southerly location, gets a break.

"We have fortunate circumstances weather-wise," Klarmann said. "We can really condition guys on a soft, spongy field. I'm glad we caught Syracuse early."

Last week Loyola beat Syracuse, 14-13, in overtime here in as entertaining a lacrosse game as you're likely to see. It was Loyola's first ever win over the Orange, but look at it this way:

Syracuse, on the road, lost in OT on a freakish goal swatted in one-handed from the crease by Kevin Beach, who was on the ground. It was the kind of thing you see in hockey, not in lacrosse.

"We don't have our legs yet," Syracuse coach Roy Simmons said. "People think our lacrosse team runs right in the Carrier Dome when the weather is bad. We don't.

"The Dome is taken over by basketball. We were told to disappear until March 27."

So the Orange has played in Chapel Hill, East Lansing, New Haven and Baltimore, and plays its home opener Saturday against a tough Towson team.

The parity in lacrosse is not as great as many claim. There are only five teams that can win the NCAA championship this year: Carolina, Princeton, Loyola, Syracuse and, a bit of a long shot, Hopkins with a questionable defense.

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