Cavaliers vs. Blue Jays: Big game, but not biggest

March 23, 1995|By BILL TANTON

Some are calling Saturday's Virginia-Johns Hopkins lacrosse showdown at Homewood "the game of the year."

Uh, not quite.

The game of the year will be played at College Park's Byrd Stadium on Memorial Day for the NCAA championship. Virginia and Hopkins could hook up again then.

For 25 years, college lacrosse has been like basketball with a postseason tournament deciding the championships. Hopkins-Virginia is merely the game of the season so far.

No. 1 Virginia vs. No. 2 Hopkins. Both teams undefeated, the Cavaliers 5-0, the Blue Jays 4-0. Both powerhouse teams, explosive and fun to watch.

These two received all 12 of the first-place votes in this week's U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association coaches' poll. Virginia had all but one of them.

And which coach do you think voted the Blue Jays No. 1? Take a wild guess.

"Hey, I picked Hopkins No. 1 before it all started," says Dom Starsia, the third-year coach at Virginia. "I thought Hopkins was the best team in the country then. I haven't seen anything that would change my mind."

You see? Lacrosse is like any other sport. Every coach likes to build up his next opponent.

The Hopkins coach, Tony Seaman, says his next opponent is the best team in the country every week. Of course he's touting the Cavaliers as No. 1 now.

A more balanced assessment comes from Roy Simmons, the Syracuse coach. His team has just played Virginia and Hopkins back to back. It lost to both . . . and in the Carrier Dome, which is unheard of.

Before those losses Syracuse's record was 101-5 in the Dome since it was built in 1980. The loss to Virginia shattered a 21-game winning streak in the building squeezed into the middle of the Syracuse campus.

Simmons, incidentally, was rushed to the hospital with double pneumonia last Saturday afternoon before the Hopkins game. He was released and sent home Tuesday.

He plans to be in Baltimore Saturday (1 o'clock) when his 2-2 team plays at Towson State (1-2).

"I wouldn't want to disappoint Carl [Runk, the Towson coach]," says Simmons.

"I'm still weak but grateful. Listening to our Hopkins game in the hospital was the worst torture I've ever had. That was the first time I'd ever heard a Syracuse lacrosse game on the radio.

"They were giving me an EKG when the game went into overtime. The doctors were shocked at what they saw. I told them if we waited until after the game I'd do better and I did."

The final score (Hopkins 14, Syracuse 13) didn't make Simmons feel any better. Neither did watching a rerun of the game on a hospital TV Monday make him feel that Hopkins is as good as Virginia.

"Hopkins has pulled two games out in the final seconds," says Simmons. "They could have a couple black eyes by now if it hadn't been for some luck. Virginia has been winning by $H knockouts."

Virginia KO'd Syracuse, 15-7, and made a believer of Simmons, who earlier traveled to Princeton to scout Virginia in an 11-4 victory.

"Virginia is for real," says Simmons. "I'd put them No. 1. They're a great transition team with great foot speed. They really gave us a lesson."

After Virginia lost the NCAA championship game in overtime to Princeton, 9-8, at College Park last year, a lot of people picked the Cavaliers to win in '95.

Why not? Virginia was young, and among those returning would be high-scoring St. Paul's graduates Michael Watson and Tim Whiteley -- both of whom, says Starsia, are "playing very well" (Watson 11 goals, eight assists; Whiteley seven and 12).

Yet when the nation's coaches turned in their ballots in the preseason they picked Syracuse No. 1. Virginia was No. 2, Hopkins No. 3 and Princeton No. 4.

The one disarming thing about Virginia's play this year is its 13-11 win over No. 15 Massachusetts last Sunday in Charlottesville.

"That was almost predictable," says Starsia. "After a week when we won at Princeton and at Syracuse -- and before coming to Baltimore to play Hopkins -- I expected a tough time. Actually, there's less anxiety for me with this Hopkins game than there was for UMass."

Starsia says Syracuse "is not the same as they have been." The Orange's athleticism dominated opponents in recent years. It didn't bother Virginia.

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