Lacrosse gate will be lacking, but games won't be

May 24, 1994|By Bill Tanton

Let's debunk this idea that attendance at next weekend's NCAA Division I men's lacrosse Final Four at College Park "will not be affected at all" even though there are no teams from this state in it.

That's baloney.

If Johns Hopkins or Loyola, quarterfinal losers, were in the field -- particularly Hopkins with a dedicated following developed over a period of decades -- there might be as many as 5,000 additional spectators on hand Saturday.

Obviously, the absence of the host school, Maryland, will take a bite out of the gate.

It's true that Hopkins hasn't won the NCAA championship since 1987. The Blue Jays haven't even played in the title game since 1989.

It's also true that Syracuse, the dominant program in college lacrosse for the past decade, has played before the five largest crowds in the sport's history.

Hey, make no mistake about it -- Syracuse draws. Its followers travel.

With Syracuse in the Final Four again this year along with Virginia, Princeton and Brown, there are sure to be lots of fans from Central New York at handsomely refurbished Byrd Stadium.

Hopkins, don't forget, has had a role in attracting some of those record Syracuse crowds, including the largest one ever, 23,893, for the title game in 1989. Syracuse beat Hopkins, 13-12, at Maryland that day.

Even last year, there were more fans at Byrd Stadium for the semifinals, with Hopkins in it (21,529), than came back two days later on Memorial Day (20,117) to see Syracuse beat North Carolina, 13-12, for the NCAA title.

The Jays and their followers will be missed. So will the Greyhounds and theirs; so, too, the Terps and their veritable army of students, alumni and friends.

Even so, it should be a great tournament. If the semis and finals are like last weekend's quarterfinals, when four games were decided by a total of five goals, this should be the most closely contested Final Four ever.

It begins at noon Saturday with Syracuse meeting Virginia, followed by Princeton-Brown in a rematch (Brown won in April, 7-6).

In the athletic department at Hopkins yesterday coach Tony Seaman was in his office, looking at a tape of his team's 12-11 overtime loss at Princeton last Saturday.

When Seaman is asked a question, he gives a short, direct answer. As coach of Hopkins and of the U.S. team that will play in the World Games in England in July, he doesn't have time for long-winded dissertations.

"Syracuse and Princeton in the championship game?" he said. "Yeah."

In the next office sat athletic director Bob Scott. No one knows this sport better than Scotty, who coached the Blue Jays for 20 years and won seven national championships.

"Syracuse and Princeton should get to the finals," he said. "But I'll bet you one of them gets knocked off."

He could well be right.

In this age of parity, there's no sure thing. Not even mighty Syracuse, which has won four of the past six championships and remains the favorite to win this one.

Syracuse came within a whisker of not making it to College Park. Though heavily favored over Duke last weekend, the Orangemen eked out a 12-11 victory.

"Duke is a great team," said Syracuse coach Roy Simmons. "They're not the same team they were in March and April. We saw them beat Maryland in the tournament, the first time Duke had beaten Maryland since 1954."

Duke has made great strides under coach Mike Pressler. Most of those who know the game had picked the Blue Devils to beat Maryland. Nobody thought Duke would throw such a scare into Syracuse, though.

"We kept telling our kids that Duke is a strong team," Simmons said, "but, even so, we probably were looking a little past Duke and toward the Final Four. I think the game served as a wake-up call for us."

"I am not looking forward to playing Syracuse," said Virginia's second-year coach, Dom Starsia. "They have great athletes and we have a lot of respect for Coach Simmons and his staff."

Nobody relishes playing Syracuse, not even Tony Seaman, whose team was the only one to beat the Orangemen this year. Syracuse is talented and deep.

If there's a team anywhere this year whose athleticism matches up with Syracuse's, it's Virginia.

"There's only one team that has the strength in the midfield that we do," said Simmons. "That's Virginia.

"Our game Saturday will probably be the most exciting game of the weekend, based on styles. We both like to run and gun. Dom likes to let his kids play, and we certainly like to turn ours loose."

Syracuse could be upset. It will be if it doesn't improve on its Duke game. I'm still picking Syracuse over the Cavaliers.

Princeton-Brown? You have to go with Princeton this time.

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