Future is bright, even without pros, for lacrosse's best

May 31, 1994|By Bill Tanton

COLLEGE PARK -- There are lots of college sports that can truly be called amateur.

Only one of those, however, can draw 24,730 paid for a national championship game. That sport is lacrosse.

That was the case yesterday when Princeton defeated Virginia, 9-8, in overtime at Byrd Stadium.

What we had were two of America's most prestigious universities vying for the NCAA championship in a speedy, rough and tumble game that was invented by the Indians.

Among the players on both squads there was not one who will move on to a career as a professional athlete.

For some of the seniors, there may be some club games ahead, or perhaps -- for a rare few -- a season or two of indoor lacrosse, in which players are paid $150 a game.

Lacrosse players -- even the very best of them -- know that real life awaits them after graduation.

That's why they go to outstanding schools such as Virginia and Princeton as well as the schools that lost in the semifinals of this tournament Saturday, Brown and Syracuse.

They major in legitimate subjects such as economics, as Princeton goalie and tournament MVP Scott Bacigalupo has, or psychology, as Tigers junior attackman Scott Conklin (high scorer in the title game with four goals) is doing. All-America senior attackman Kevin Lowe, who scored the game-winner 42 seconds into OT, majored in politics.

The Virginians are no different.

Their Craig Ronald, senior defenseman from Loyola High, is a sociology major on the Atlantic Coast Conference academic honor roll. James Ireland, the Cavaliers' goalie, majored in history, Andy Dausch (Gilman) in English.

Lacrosse fans like it this way. They welcome the wholesomeness of the game as much as they appreciate the athleticism of the participants.

Not that the championship game will go down as the most entertaining ever. For much of it, Princeton's deliberate style slowed the action and helped keep the score down. In the end, the 42 seconds of sudden death provided enough drama.

Of the 24 Division I men's tournaments played since the NCAA took over the sport in 1971, 11 have seen the championship game decided by one goal; six have gone into overtime.

Even in lacrosse, this was an extraordinary year for academic achievers.

Princeton, of the Ivy League, won the men's and women's NCAA championships, both of them decided on Byrd Stadium's grass.

On May 22, Princeton's women defeated Maryland, 10-7, for the title. Never before had one school won both championships.

Larry Gutstein, of Armonk, N.Y., and his wife, Nancy, hit the daily double. Among their five children are twins, Pancho and Abigail, who are Princeton sophomores.

Abigail played for the women's national championship team. Pancho was on the men's team and is heir apparent to the goalie job being vacated by Bacigalupo.

"There's only one reason we sent the twins to Princeton -- academics," said Larry Gutstein, who says he works for "a little company called IBM."

Among the jubilant Princetonians celebrating on the Byrd Stadium field after the game yesterday was Kim Simons, of Flowertown, N.Y. She was a co-captain of the Tigers women along with Baltimorean Jenny Bristow, daughter of Gilman School athletic director Sherm Bristow. Jenny Bristow had two goals and two assists in the NCAA title game.

"What do you think of us winning both the men's and women's championships?" Kim Simons asked. "Not bad for an Ivy League school with no athletic scholarships, huh?"

Typifying Princeton's lacrosse success is Bacigalupo, who graduated No. 1 in his class at St. Paul's four years ago, and has led coach Bill Tierney's Tigers to NCAA championships in '92 and this year. "Batch," as the Princeton players call him, was voted the tournament's Most Outstanding Player.

As soon as the game ended, Tierney embraced Batch. He held on for several seconds.

For Bacigalupo, this was it for lacrosse.

Oh, he'll play in the North-South All-Star Game at Homewood on June 10, and he'll play in a fun tournament at Vail, Colo., in June.

But then he'll go to work in the investment business in New York. He has known for a long time that his lacrosse career, for all intents and purposes, would end with the NCAA tournament.

"Going into overtime," Scott told me later, "I said to myself, 'This is my last game. We have to win it.' "

They did, and Batch was the star of the tournament.

The best college football and basketball players in the country will be showered with millions in the pros starting next year.

But Scott Bacigalupo and his Princeton classmates, male and female, and, yes, the Virginia lacrosse players as well, are enriched in another very real way.

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