Standout Syracuse aims higher

Against Virginia today, Orangemen seek to become 1st No. 8 seed to win title

May 31, 1999|By Jamison Hensley | Jamison Hensley,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- Perhaps some of Syracuse's edge in the NCAA Division I lacrosse tournament vanished when Virginia became the Orangemen's opponent for today's championship. For the first time during Syracuse's playoff run, there's no regular-season loss to avenge.

Then again, Syracuse is still "The 'Cuse." The traditional central New York power that stands out in a crowd by wearing its bright orange jerseys as well as spelling out its championship-style confidence across its chest.

Walking into yesterday's news conference, the Syracuse players wore T-shirts that read in orange lettering: "Winning When It Counts. Est. 1983." Translation: the Orangemen are 6-3 in NCAA championship games since winning their first title 16 years ago.

So No. 8 Syracuse, making its first appearance in the NCAA final since its 1995 title campaign, has a list of incentives for beating No. 3 Virginia:

Avoid becoming the first Orangemen senior class to leave without a championship ring since 1987.

Become the first seed lower than fifth to capture the title.

Tie Johns Hopkins with an NCAA-best seventh national championship.

"We talked as seniors that it would be nice to go out with a championship," midfielder Chris Cordisco said. "But that's our goal every year."

And Virginia coach Dom Starsia didn't need that message delivered on T-shirts.

"What concerns me about Syracuse is their ability to adapt in May," Starsia said. "They kind of limped through the end of the regular season and then made their May decision: We're willing to do whatever it takes to be successful in May."

Syracuse seemed comfortable in playing a slow-down game in a 7-5 win over three-time defending national champion Princeton in the first round. The Orangemen then charged back from early deficits against top-seeded Loyola and No. 5 Georgetown to advance to the championship.

With those victories, Syracuse redeemed three of its four regular-season losses. But which school is looking to finish off a revenge tour?

Virginia evened two season series by beating Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament final a week after losing to the Blue Devils, and rolling past Johns Hopkins in Saturday's national semifinals. The Cavaliers' only other defeat this season came at Syracuse in a 14-12 defeat on March 6.

"This is something that the program wants very badly," Starsia said. "I don't anticipate that we'll back away from any challenge, but the question will be: Are we up to it? I'll take my team and take our chances."

In the last meeting, the game's hyped matchup of Syracuse attackman Ryan Powell vs. Virginia defenseman Ryan Curtis ended in a push, literally. Powell, who had two goals and two assists, taunted Curtis throughout before Curtis received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty for shoving Powell with 2: 58 remaining.

Following the game, Curtis said: "He deserved it. I'd do it again."

Yet the Cavaliers' focus today will be restoring some unfamiliar history.

Virginia won its only NCAA title in 1972 -- four years before any of the current Cavaliers were born -- at Byrd Stadium before a crowd of 7,001. The Cavaliers advanced to the NCAA final four times after that, losing in overtime each time.

Only three Cavaliers on this year's roster played in Virginia's last trip in 1996, when Princeton won, 13-12. Henry Oakey had a goal and assist; Michael Leahy took one shot; and this year's leading scorer, Tucker Radebaugh, had a different job back then, losing four of five faceoffs in that game.

But losing draws hasn't been much of a problem for Virginia in this year's tournament. In two playoff games, the Cavaliers have won 75 percent (44 of 59) of their faceoffs, which has led to several easy transition goals.

However, Virginia lost the opening overtime faceoff in its past two NCAA championship appearances and lost both title appearances in a total of 76 seconds. The Cavaliers' faceoff tandem of David Jenkins and Jason Hard have only stumbled in three games all season. One of their down performances included a 14-for-29 effort against the Orangemen.

"Statistically, we've always done well against them," Syracuse coach John Desko said. "We just have to stop the unsettled situations."

Pub Date: 5/31/99

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