Club vs. college: A Classic lacrosse debate continues

Bill Tanton

June 17, 1993|By Bill Tanton

Could a championship college team beat a sport's pr champs?

No one in his right mind suggests that college football king Alabama would beat the Super Bowl champion Dallas Cowboys.

No one seems to believe that Dean Smith's North Carolina Tar Heels could handle either Michael Jordan and the Bulls or Charles Barkley and the Suns.

Newly crowned NCAA baseball champion Louisiana State would have no chance against baseball's defending World Series champs, the Toronto Blue Jays.

But in lacrosse, people aren't so sure.

More than 150 members of the lacrosse community played in the Lax World-sponsored golf tournament at Wakefield yesterday, kicking off this weekend's Hall of Fame Lacrosse Classic at Homewood. The golf tourney raised $7,000 for the New Start program that encourages new teams to take up the sport.

Question: Who would win if Syracuse, which won the NCAA championship on Memorial Day, played the club champions for the Open title?

This year's club championship will be decided at the Classic Saturday night when southern titlist Mount Washington meets Boston's Brine Lacrosse Club, king of the North.

For argument's sake, because Mount Washington and its players are so much better known than Brine's, let's say the college vs. club debate boils down to Syracuse against the Mounties. Who wins?

"I'd have to pick the club champion," says Steve Stenersen, executive director of the Lacrosse Hall of Fame and Foundation. "I don't think any college team could match talent like the Mount's Paul and Gary Gait, Dave Pietramala, Rob Shek and so on."

Said Ted Bauer, a Lacrosse Hall of Famer and chairman of the All-America selection committee: "If the Mounties play like they did last Saturday, Syracuse would beat 'em."

Mount Washington, which had other close calls during the regular season, was lucky to get by the Maryland Lacrosse Club in a playoff game last weekend. A goal by MLC's John Tucker one second after time expired would have tied the game at 11-all and sent it into overtime.

"I'd take the club team over the college team," said Don Fritz, the Hall of Fame's archivist. "We never beat Mount Washington."

When Don Fritz talks about we, he's referring to the great Johns Hopkins' teams of his undergraduate days. This was the famous '50 team of Jim Adams, Bob Sandell, Fred Smith, Lloyd Bunting, etc., which many -- especially Don Fritz -- consider the best ever among Hopkins' many great teams.

That team, coached by Howdy Myers, won three straight national championships from '47 through '49. In '50, Myers moved on to start lacrosse on Long Island at Hofstra. Dr. Kelso Morrill coached the '50 champions.

Yet, as outstanding as that Hopkins group was, it lost every year to the Mount Washington Club in a game played at Hopkins for the mythical National Open championship.

Times have changed, though. Whereas Mount Washington once had all the former All-Americans, today the talent is spread around. Last year the Maryland Lacrosse Club won the U.S. club championship.

Among those who have long felt that the college champs in any given year could hold their own against the most star-studded club team is Bob Scott, Hopkins' athletic director.

Scotty, who coached Hopkins for 20 years and won seven national championships, points out that college teams have the benefit of practicing every day under full-time, professional coaching in a disciplined atmosphere, while club players -- unlike the Dallas Cowboys or the Toronto Blue Jays -- have outside jobs that limit practice time. Many miss practices and even games.

Roy Simmons, coach of Syracuse's '93 champs, is a good one to ponder the Orange vs. Mount Washington question, because the Mount looks a lot like the old Syracuse teams. The Gait twins led Syracuse to NCAA titles in '88, '89 and '90.

"It'd be like an alumni game," Simmons said, "and I think it would be a one- or two-goal game. It'd be interesting -- youth against experience."

There's no doubt that club players are a little more advanced than the collegians. That's why 25 of the 27 players on the U.S. team in the World Games in 1990 were chosen from the club ranks.

But as Simmons points out, variables such as focus, conditioning and timing could make up for that.

Judge for yourself Saturday night.

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