Usual 4 line up for shot at title

Hopkins, Syracuse, Princeton, Virginia expected to be here

College Lacrosse

May 27, 2000|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK - Syracuse attackman Ryan Powell is on a business trip this weekend.

Powell, who will be named an All-American for the fourth time, expected to spend Memorial Day on the Byrd Stadium field from the season's outset. To get to Monday's NCAA tournament title game, the top-seeded Orangemen will have to solve fourth-seeded Johns Hopkins in today's semifinals.

Appearing serene and comfortable yesterday, Powell looked like a guy who belonged and has digested the tradition. Eighteen consecutive trips to the Final Four has a way of breeding high expectations.

"Business as usual is the way we look at it," said Powell, who leads Syracuse with 86 points and might be the best player in the nation.

"We can have fun for the rest of the summer. Memorial Day weekend is the time for the Syracuse University lacrosse team to come to College Park and try to win the national championship. We've just come down here on the usual business trip."

The top-seeded Orangemen lead a familiar foursome into the Final Four, where defending national champion Virginia plays third-seeded Princeton in today's second game.

There is no room for outsiders this year. Virginia, Syracuse, Hopkins and Princeton began the year ranked as the country's top four teams. They end the season by adding more luster to some of the game's storied programs.

These four schools have won a combined 20 of the first 29 NCAA Division I titles and have been to the Final Four a combined 61 times.

Hopkins, which has won seven championships but has not won it all since 1987, has been to the tournament every year since its inception in 1971 and is in its 22nd Final Four. Virginia, which went 27 years between titles before winning it last year, has been a semifinalist 14 times. Princeton, under coach Bill Tierney, won five championships in the 1990s, including three straight from 1996-98.

Syracuse is going for its seventh championship and its first since 1995. The Orangemen, the only team to beat Virginia during the regular season, are the odds-on pick to face the Cavaliers on Monday in a rematch of last year's title game.

The first obstacle standing in the Orangemen's way is a Blue Jays team that probably is not the best in the field. But no team has retooled and rebuilt itself into playoff-ready condition like Hopkins.

The Blue Jays, whose losses have come against each of their Final Four counterparts, have made changes at four positions since opening day, a 15-11 loss at home to Princeton.

Freshman attackmen Bobby Benson and Adam Doneger were starting together by the time the Blue Jays limped through a 1-3 start. Midfielder Rob Frattarola replaced Conor Denihan on the first midfield line by midseason. Long-stick midfielder Shawn Nadelen replaced P.J. DiConza on close defense.

Those changes, along with the steadily improved play of goalie Brian Carcaterra and faceoff man Eric Wedin and the always-dangerous offensive punch provided by attackman Dan Denihan and midfielder A.J. Haugen, have Hopkins riding an eight-game winning streak. The Blue Jays think they can make up the difference in a 13-12 loss to Syracuse at the Carrier Dome on March 17.

"We've been reminded of that 1-3 start about a million times," Hopkins coach John Haus said. "The most important thing is to get better as the year goes on. Sometimes it takes a team a month or so, sometimes it takes longer to gel as a group. We've started to play some pretty good ball."

To knock off Syracuse, the Blue Jays will look primarily to the circles. Wedin must get the best of Chris Cercy to keep the ball away from the potent Orangemen offense, and Carcaterra must guard the net like the two-time All-American he has resembled in recent weeks.

"They are as potent an offense as I've seen," said Carcaterra, who added that his first-half performance will be a key to Hopkins' success. "They've got feeders, shooters, dodgers, all across the board. It's going to take an unbelievable effort from the guys in front of me, and I have to make some plays early in the game to set the tempo."

The matchup of Brandon Testa on Powell should be a good one. And don't be surprised if attackman Michael Springer or midfielder Josh Coffman emerges as a hero. It will also be interesting to see how Benson or Doneger responds to the pressure in front of 30,000 spectators, especially if Syracuse defenseman John Glatzel neutralizes Dan Denihan.

Princeton might be short on offensive firepower with leading scorer B.J. Prager long gone with a knee injury. But the Tigers have been resourceful enough on offense, and the Tierney system has produced another superb defense despite the youth of such players as freshman Damien Davis (Gilman) and Brian Lieberman, who is back from a shoulder injury.

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