Cavs put on good face

Lacrosse: The faceoff tandem of David Jenkins and Jason Hard has helped Virginia advance to the final four -- and shake an image of being `soft.'

May 26, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

In the 1996 Division I men's lacrosse national championship game, Virginia's David Wren stared over at coach Dom Starsia before the opening faceoff of overtime and said, "We got this one."

Only 34 seconds later, Starsia watched the Princeton players celebrating and raising the NCAA championship plaque.

Rewind back to the 1994 national-title game and it's an all-too-familiar script: Overtime begins, Princeton beats Virginia on the faceoff and the Tigers storm the field within 42 seconds.

Two national titles swiped away in a span of 76 seconds. It's not surprising that the Cavaliers resolved this problem on the double-quick.

Balancing a unique platoon system with David Jenkins and Jason Hard, Virginia enters the final four as the top remaining faceoff team and the only school that has won over 60 percent of its draws. Lacrosse's premier tag team has carried the Cavaliers at times, fueling the Virginia attack and slamming any momentum for opponents.

"I have great confidence in our faceoff situation," Starsia said. "We get a lot of our grittiness from warriors like Jason and David. We're a tough team to get on a roll against."

Grittiness in Charlottesville? For the past two decades, many have labeled the Cavaliers as "soft."

Actually, several Virginia players said Maryland chastised them during warm-ups in their first meeting this season with such comments as, "We can smell your perfume" and "Where are your dress socks?"

The Cavaliers delivered their response by hammering the Terrapins on faceoffs, 14-6, that spurred Maryland coach Dick Edell to say, cringing, "I thought their guys out-toughed our guys. I don't want to say it. It makes me sick to say that."

But that's the new blue-collar order of the Wahoos.

Jenkins and Hard initiate the action in the center of the field, focusing on physically beating the opposition rather than countering any moves.

They are virtual mirror images, both standing 6 feet 1 and weighing about 200 pounds. They both feature quick, clamping styles, with Jenkins relying more on power and Hard depending on his scrappy nature.

Still, only one can compete at a time. And when that critical faceoff has emerged, the coaches will ask input from Jenkins and Hard about the impending matchup.

It's an enviable situation. Should Virginia send out Jenkins, the nation's top faceoff specialist with a .655 win percentage, or go with Hard, who ranks fourth in the country at .629?

"We compete in practice and we compete against each other," Jenkins said. "But we help each other, too. When it comes down to a big faceoff, we know who is hot or who the other is hot against. And he'll take the faceoff."

It's a cohesive mesh between two players from contrasting backgrounds.

Hard, a junior, grew up in Bridgeport, N.Y., a middle-class area near Syracuse, and became a coveted faceoff recruit at a public school not known for producing lacrosse players.

Then there is Jenkins, a sophomore who boarded at the Taft School in Connecticut and had amazing faceoff numbers in a marginal high school league.

Yet Hard and Jenkins probably wouldn't be as successful in solo gigs.

They watch films of their upcoming opponent, mimicking their observations in practice to prepare the other rather than just working on their own techniques. And when either Hard or Jenkins wins several draws in a row, they will stop and analyze what weakness the other is exposing.

The give-and-take relationship has taken away any sting of Hard losing the job this year. In 1998, he lingered in a major sophomore slump, winning 42 percent of his faceoffs only one year after being named Atlantic Coast Conference Rookie of the Year.

"Last year, I was dying out there," Hard said. "Coach was like: get someone else out there. This is the best thing that could have happened. I don't think of it as a demotion."

Think of it more as double trouble.

In a game against North Carolina, Hard won 14 of 21 draws, which included going 7-for-10 following a Tar Heel goal. Then there's Jenkins, who controlled 13 of 14 faceoffs in a quarterfinal win over Delaware and grabbed a game-high 10 ground balls.

So if Virginia encounters an overtime faceoff this weekend, the Cavaliers will again have another problem: Who gets the nod?

"Whatever they do, they do it pretty hard," Maryland's faceoff specialist, Brian Haggerty, said. "Plus, there's two of them and that wears teams down. And when they're winning faceoff after faceoff, it wears you down even more."

NCAA lacrosse

Men's final four

At College Park

Saturday's semifinals

Syracuse (11-4) vs.

Georgetown (13-2), noon,

ESPN2

Johns Hopkins (11-2) vs.

Virginia (11-3), 3 p.m.,

ESPN2

Monday's championship 10: 55 a.m., ESPN

Previews

Tomorrow: Syracuse

Friday: Johns Hopkins

Getting the jump

Virginia has won 62.9 percent of its faceoffs this year, including 75.5 percent (83-for-110) over its last four games. A breakdown of the Cavaliers' draws this season:

Date Opponent Faceoffs

3-6 at Syracuse SU, 15-for-29

3-13 at Princeton PU, 9-for-14

3-16 vs. Rutgers UVa, 21-for-32

3-20 vs. UMass UVa, 17-for-25

3-23 vs. Ohio St. UVa, 16-for-23

3-27 at J. Hopkins UVa, 17-for-32

4-3 vs. Maryland UVa, 14-for-20

4-10 vs. N. C. UVa, 21-for-35

4-18 at Duke UVa, 12-for-23

4-23 vs. Maryland UM, 13-for-25

4-25 vs. Duke UVa, 13-for-19

5-1 vs. S. Brook UVa, 24-for-30

5-5 at Butler UVa, 20-for-30

5-23 vs. Delaware UVa, 26-for-31

Totals UVa, 232-for-369

Pub Date: 5/26/99

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