Lacrosse season looms as biggest game in town

March 02, 1995|By BILL TANTON

With no Oriole baseball in sight, college lacrosse figures to get more attention than ever this spring.

This is a good year for that to happen, as far as lacrosse is concerned.

The season should be a beauty. It moves into high gear Saturday when defending NCAA champion Princeton visits Johns Hopkins.

Although no school from this state made it to the NCAA Final Four last year, three teams from Greater Baltimore -- Johns Hopkins, Loyola and Towson State -- have a good chance to get there this season.

The Division I lacrosse race is as wide-open as the upcoming NCAA basketball championship tournament will be. A whole bunch of teams are capable of winning either one.

Which team will be awarded the lacrosse championship trophy at College Park on Memorial Day?. The nation's coaches, in their annual pre-season poll in the March issue of Lacrosse Magazine, rate Syracuse No. 1.

Picking Syracuse in any year is a safe bet. Coach Roy Simmons really has it going there with a steady stream of Central New York lacrosse talent eager to play for the Orange in the Carrier Dome, with every game on TV. No wonder Syracuse has won four of the last seven national championships.

But one can go wrong picking the 'Cuse. I did last year and in '92. Coach Bill Tierney's Princeton team won both years.

Even though the Orange graduated two All-America midfielders, Charley Lockwood and Dom Fin, it still has middie Roy Colsey, a leading contender for Player of the Year honors and the team's top scorer last year (44 goals, 13 assists).

Syracuse also has the country's most talented defense, led by a first-team All-American, the colorful and unpredictable Ric Beardsley.

I don't think this is a Syracuse year, though. Syracuse has never been a team that wins with defense.

I don't think Princeton -- No. 4 in the coaches' poll -- will repeat either.

The anchor of the Tiger team for the last four years was All-America goalie Scott Bacigalupo. A product of St. Paul's School, Batch is now working in the investment business in New York, his lacrosse days behind him.

At the Princeton-Loyola scrimmage last Saturday I asked Bryce Chase, a longtime assistant coach for the Tigers, if the team had come up with another Bacigalupo this year.

L "We may not get another one like him for 40 years," he said.

Pre-season scrimmages are not to be taken too seriously. In '92 Princeton lost all of them and won the national championship.

But the young Princeton team I saw lose at Loyola the other day is not ready to challenge for the title. I don't think it's ready to beat Hopkins, either -- even though the Tigers beat the Blue Jays in their season opener at Homewood the last two years.

"Princeton'll be a great team in May," says Tony Seaman, the Hopkins coach. If true, that will be OK with Tiger supporters. The tournament is played in May.

Virginia, the second choice of the coaches, is being picked by a lot of people to go all the way. That's understandable.

Moments after the Cavaliers lost to Princeton in sudden death overtime in the NCAA title game last year at Byrd Stadium, some fans were trying to ease the disappointment of Mitch Whiteley, father of Virginia sophomore Tim Whiteley.

"Don't worry," they told him. "With Timmy and Michael Watson coming back next year, we'll win it."

"It doesn't work that way," said Whiteley, who was then the St. Paul's coach. "Virginia may not even get back to the championship game next year. We could very easily be eliminated by somebody like North Carolina or Towson State or Loyola."

Virginia, which hosts Navy Saturday, should get a lot of scoring from Whiteley and Watson, but the Cavaliers have to rebuild their defense and find a new goalie. That doesn't say championship to me.

To be sure, Loyola -- picked No. 4 by the coaches and opening at home Saturday against C.W. Post -- is capable of beating anybody.

"I like this team," says coach Dave Cottle, in his 13th season at Loyola. "We have seven really good players. We've never had more than that."

The really good ones include seniors Tim McGeeney, the best goalie in the country this year, and midfielder Zack Thornton. Already a first-team All-America goalie in soccer, the 6-2, 210-pound Thornton should blossom into a major star this spring.

Loyola's problem will be scoring, while up Charles Street Towson State, host to Villanova Saturday, should find scoring no problem at all.

"Our attack can do more things than ever," says coach Carl Runk, who will have to strengthen his defense in order to make a run at the school's first NCAA title.

This looks from here like a Johns Hopkins year. The Blue Jays are due. They haven't won a title since 1987.

Seaman, in his fifth year, has virtually everybody back from the team that lost a quarterfinal overtime heartbreaker at Princeton last May.

The Jays have back the nation's best attack unit, eight of their nine top midfielders, two starting defensemen and a goalie, Jonathan Marcus, who is a third year starter.

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