COLLEGE PARK -- Princeton doesn't feel invincible, it just plays that way.
The Tigers will shoot for their second straight NCAA championship and their 28th straight win when they meet Maryland in today's final. Coach Bill Tierney's team hasn't lost since March 1996, when Virginia tamed the Tigers, 12-9, in FTC Charlottesville, but the players admitted to anxiety in Saturday's semifinal win over Duke.
"When we were down 9-7 with seven or eight minutes left, that's the first time we had faced a large climb all season," said Jon Hess, a member of Princeton's all-junior attack. "That's the first time all season that we weren't in the driver's seat. Duke's offense was clicking, its defense was clicking and the crowd was into it.
"For the first time, we started to question ourselves."
The Tigers drew on memories of last year's NCAA tournament and rallied for victory. Maryland enters off wins over Virginia and Syracuse, but Princeton has been there, done that. En route to last year's title, the Tigers beat the Orangemen in the semifinals and the Cavaliers in the final.
Princeton has a way to go to match the run Johns Hopkins had from 1978-87, when the Blue Jays won six titles, but the Tigers are getting there. A win today would give them their fourth title in six years, a stretch matched only once before, by Syracuse between 1988-93.
The Tigers can join Hopkins, Syracuse and North Carolina as schools with four titles, and Tierney can become only the second coach with four title rings. Syracuse's Roy Simmons holds the record, with six.
Here's a positive omen for Tierney: No unbeaten No. 1 seed that survived the semifinals lost in the championship game. Syracuse did the trick in 1988 and '90, and North Carolina did so in 1991.
Brian Dougherty, the goalkeeping hero for Maryland in recent seasons, remained with the program as a student assistant this season. He got a degree on Thursday, and given the NCAA's strict limits on coaches and personnel, Dick Edell wondered aloud if Dougherty could still work the Terps' sideline.
"We may not be able to use him," said Edell, who was told to have Maryland's compliance officer check with the NCAA on the matter.
Dougherty was the MVP of the Final Four in 1995.
Offense a hit with Edell
When Edell wants to talk about lacrosse, he'll re-create a big hit or rant about the aggressive nature of his defense.
Yet for the past two weeks, all Edell seems to be discussing is his offense.
And Saturday's 18-17 upset of Syracuse represented a big victory for the Terrapins' attack.
Maryland, which has always flourished in single-digit contests, played in its highest-scoring game since 1979. It's also the most goals allowed in a victory in Maryland's 73-year lacrosse history.
"I think we're a heck of a team to defend," said Edell, who had 11 players score goals against the Orangemen. "When you look at our goal scorers, it's spread throughout. We have three attackmen who can hurt you and Maury LaPointe steps in as a fourth attackman. We just trust the open shooter is going to be successful."
The Division I tournament sites for the 1998 and 1999 seasons were announced.
In 1998, the first-round games will be held at the University of Massachusetts and Johns Hopkins. The quarterfinals will be at Hofstra and Maryland with the championship weekend moving to Rutgers.
For the 1999 tournament, the first-round sites are Brown and Johns Hopkins. Both quarterfinal doubleheaders will be in the north at Princeton and Hofstra. The Final Four games will return to Byrd Stadium.
Rutgers will then play host to the championship weekends for 2000 and 2001.
Outside looking in
It will be the first time that Syracuse has gone back-to-back years without an NCAA title since 1991-92. It was the first time the Orangemen lost to a Maryland school in the NCAA tournament in 12 years, when Hopkins beat them in the championship game.
"It was a hot day for us Yankees," Syracuse coach Roy Simmons said. "We weren't ready for blacktop lacrosse, but I'm still proud of my kids."
Each of the five NCAA tournament games played at Byrd Stadium this spring has been decided by a single goal. Princeton will try to complete a sweep of the Atlantic Coast Conference. It hasone-goal wins over Duke, Virginia and North Carolina. No state team has won the Division I title since Hopkins in 1987.
The 102 goals scored this year by Jesse Hubbard, Chris Massey and Hess are the second-highest total by a Princeton attack. The most? Their 129 last season.
Pub Date: 5/26/97