It's a wacky, wonderful year in lacrosse

April 14, 1994|By Bill Tanton

"It's been a fickle season," says Roy Simmons, the Lacrosse Hall of Famer who coaches defending NCAA champion Syracuse.

Fickle?

"Who would've thought North Carolina would have four losses now?" asks Simmons. "Who thought Johns Hopkins would have three losses? Who thought Loyola would be No. 1 in the country?"

Fickle. That's one word to describe the way the gods of lacrosse have acted this spring.

A week ago Princeton, undefeated, ranked No. 1 and magnificently coached by Bill Tierney, was emerging as the class of the field. Then the Tigers lost to Brown.

Not everyone was shocked, though.

"That was predictable," says Cornell coach Richie Moran. "The Ivy League is very competitive."

"I wasn't surprised," says Simmons. "We beat Brown but we left there knowing we'd beaten a very good team."

"I thought our game with Brown was awful," says Princeton's Tierney.

"That's not just because we lost. We only scored six goals [to Brown's seven]. All it means is that anybody can be beaten except Loyola. That makes this a great year for lacrosse."

As big a surprise as any this season is Loyola with a 7-0 record, the only undefeated team left in Division I. In the coaches' preseason poll, Loyola was No. 6.

"I had no idea you'd be this good," I told Loyola coach Dave Cottle this week.

"Neither did I," he admitted. "I'm not sure we are this good."

He'll find out soon enough. Loyola was favored over improved UMBC today at Evergreen. Following that, the Greyhounds play in the Carrier Dome next Tuesday night against Syracuse.

Syracuse has one loss (at Hopkins, 19-14) and is ranked only fourth. Even so, the Orange remains the most feared team in the country.

Even Brown coach Peter Lasagna admits that, and his team only lost by 14-12 to Syracuse.

"If Syracuse gets on a run," says Lasagna, who once attended Friends School here, "they can do what nobody else can do to you."

Of the 19 coaches who voted in the preseason poll, 15 had Syracuse on top. The other four picked Princeton.

Perhaps Loyola can continue winning, but when Syracuse gets the nation's top-rated team in the Dome next week, look for the Orange to explode.

Syracuse did some exploding last weekend in beating neighboring Cornell, 22-5.

"Syracuse is circling the wagons," warns Loyola's Cottle.

UMBC coach Don Zimmerman is an old hand at playing Syracuse, which has won four of the past six NCAA championships. Zimmerman won three titles when he coached at Hopkins. He played against Simmons every year.

"I think this year's team is like all Syracuse teams," says Zimmerman. "If they get their act together, they'll win. If they don't get their act together, they're beatable."

The coaches probably had it right even before the season started, that Syracuse and Princeton figured to wind up meeting for the title at College Park on Memorial Day.

Which is the better team?

"That's a tough one," says Brown's Lasagna. "Syracuse is scarier. Syracuse has the best talent of anybody. Syracuse would be unbeatable if it had Princeton's discipline."

Syracuse didn't wow anybody on its two visits to Baltimore last month. The Orange lost to Hopkins, then had to rally to force overtime at Towson State before winning, 17-16.

"We're on track now," says Simmons. "We're always late getting together because of where we are.

"Last year we lost two games early at Carolina and Loyola and we were going around feeling sorry for ourselves. And yet we came on at the end of the year and won the championship.

"We only have one loss now. We'll be all right."

Tierney knows Syracuse well.

His Princetonians beat the Orange in overtime to win the NCAA title at Franklin Field in '92. Last year at College Park, Syracuse eliminated Princeton in a 15-9 NCAA tournament semifinal.

"This is a typical, high-powered Syracuse offense," Tierney says. "Defensively, they come at you."

Virginia is 8-1 and ranked No. 2, but on March 12 Princeton went to Charlottesville and beat the Cavaliers convincingly, 14-6.

That caused many to write off the young Cavaliers, but it's the only loss they have. When Virginia walloped Carolina, 16-6, last weekend, many dismissed the Tar Heels as a title contender.

Hopkins, No. 6, is too beat up physically to come on and win it all. Towson State, No. 7, is an intriguing dark horse that has lost only to Syracuse and Loyola by one goal each.

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