Syracuse may stick around as lacrosse champ

March 03, 1994|By Bill Tanton

The college lacrosse season gets going in earnest this weekend but already people are trying to figure out which team will win the NCAA championship at College Park on Memorial Day.

"I picked Syracuse No. 1," says coach Bryan Matthews, whose Navy team is already 2-0. "Syracuse is strong in the midfield."

Matthews has a lot of company.

Nineteen coaches voted in the annual coaches' preseason poll in the March-April Lacrosse magazine; 15 picked Syracuse.

And why not?

Syracuse, the defending NCAA champion, has won the title four of the last six seasons. In a fifth (1992), the Orange lost to Princeton in sudden-death overtime.

I picked Syracuse to win it all last year but made the selection at a strange time -- when the Orange had a 1-2 record after losing to Loyola here in overtime, 14-13.

Syracuse hadn't been outdoors and wasn't in shape yet. Even though Syracuse is the only team in the country that plays indoors, the Carrier Dome belongs to basketball until late March. One look at all those athletes in orange uniforms that day at Loyola and it was evident that, once they reached peak form, they'd be unbeatable.

They were, too. They went on to win 11 straight, including the title game against North Carolina (13-12).

That's what people see at Syracuse once again this year -- lots of big, strong, tough athletes who can run. Syracuse has been winning with that formula since the Gait twins arrived there in 1987.

"We have some holes to fill after losing eight starters from a year ago," says Orange coach Roy Simmons. "The goals are the same, reaching the NCAA tournament and advancing. We feel we have the talent; it will be a case of chemistry."

Lacrosse championships are won with great midfield depth and great goalies.

Syracuse is loaded at midfield. Roy Colsey and Dom Fin were first team All-America last year. Charlie Lockwood, second-team All-America last year, was first team two years ago.

Only once in lacrosse history have more All-American midfielders been on the same team. That was from 1947-1950 when Johns Hopkins had Ace Adams, Bob Sandell, Fred Smith, Wilson Fewster and Ray Greene. All are now in the Hall of Fame. Naturally that group won four straight national championships.

Goalie will be Syracuse's problem this year with Chris Surran graduated.

At a news conference yesterday Simmons said he has not yet decided on his starter for the opener Saturday at the Dome against Carolina. Of his four goalies, only senior Garrett Esposito has game experience.

Syracuse may give up a lot of goals, but it'll score a lot more. The Orange should win comfortably over Carolina.

The coaches' poll has last year's Final Four finishing on top again, in order: Syracuse, Princeton, Johns Hopkins and North Carolina. After that come Virginia, Loyola, Massachusetts, Duke, Navy, Brown, Hofstra, Towson State, Maryland, Army, Georgetown, Rutgers, Delaware, Yale, Notre Dame, Penn State.

I think the coaches are off the mark in a couple places. Carolina has lost 14 seniors. The Tar Heels should miss the Final Four.

Hopkins will score a ton of goals with Brian Piccola and Terry Riordan back on attack, but the Blue Jays have an inexperienced defense. The Hopkins-Syracuse game here March 19 may produce 40 goals (last year's had 38, S.U. winning, 21-17).

Hopkins opens at home Saturday against a Princeton team that is the biggest threat to Syracuse. Coach Bill Tierney's Tigers have the best goalie in the country in senior Scott Bacigalupo and, at the other end of the field, as good an attackman as there is in Kevin Lowe.

I see Virginia, picked No. 5 by the coaches, moving up to the Final Four. Those who have seen the Wahoos in practice say coach Dom Starsia's team is playing with new intensity.

Freshman Michael Watson has rejoined his old St. Paul's teammate, Timmy Whitely, on attack. Craig Ronald (Loyola High) looks ready for a great year on defense.

Biggest mistake in the coaches' voting: picking Georgetown No. 15. When coach Dave Urick went from Hobart to Georgetown five years ago, he said his Hoyas would be "a threat" in four years. They were that last year. This year they should finish in the top 10.

The coaches picked Duke No. 8. With ex-Hopkins All-America Mike Morrill now Duke's offensive coordinator, the Blue Devils' offense is much improved. No. 8 is not too high for this team.

My top 10: Syracuse, Princeton, Virginia, Hopkins, North Carolina, UMass, Loyola, Duke, Georgetown, Navy.

A little tip: Don't pay too much attention to results of recent scrim

mages. There have been some wild results (Army beating Syracuse and Princeton, for example). Scrimmages don't mean much.

The meaningful stuff starts this weekend. And the really meaningful stuff doesn't start until the 12-team NCAA tournament begins in May.

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