UNC, Johns Hopkins fight ties that bind

Today's matchup pits teams that share past


March 31, 2001|By James Giza | James Giza,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHAPEL HILL, N.C. - The weird world of college lacrosse, with all of its uncanny connections and a family tree that seems to branch everywhere, takes another odd turn today at North Carolina's Fetzer Field.

And as the world turns, the biggest question surrounding the game between No. 5 Johns Hopkins and the 14th-ranked Tar Heels is for whom the 1 p.m. meeting will be the most strange.

Will it be first-year North Carolina coach John Haus? The Loyola High graduate coached the Blue Jays to consecutive final fours the past two seasons - his only two as head coach - and served as defensive coordinator at Johns Hopkins from 1988 to '94.

Will it be first-year Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala? Pietramala left Hopkins as a three-time All-America defenseman in 1989, playing under Haus for two seasons. He also worked with Haus as an assistant in 1991.

Will it be Seth Tierney and Bill Dwan? Pietramala's assistant coaches both played for Haus at Hopkins from 1988 to '91.

Will it be the players? The Blue Jays called Haus coach for two years, and the Tar Heels know Haus still has strong bonds with Hopkins and its lacrosse program.

Both sides are playing down the connections. But both sides know this is no regular game.

"My job now is to get the Tar Heels ready to play lacrosse," said Haus, an All-American defenseman at Carolina in the early 1980s. "And sure, I have the utmost respect for every one of those players for Hopkins. And I know they're going to come here and play hard and be focused, and I know they're going to try to win, and I respect that."

Pietramala knows the danger of facing a team eerily recognizable.

Hopkins scrimmaged against Cornell - the team Pietramala coached the previous three seasons - in the preseason and, on March 10, beat Hofstra, where Tierney was an assistant before joining Pietramala this season.

Pietramala, who still refers to Haus as "Coach Haus," said the Blue Jays got too emotionally involved in the ties surrounding the games.

"It's a tough situation," Pietramala said in a phone interview Thursday evening. "Both times, we felt like the emotion got the better of them, and we want to make sure that won't happen [today]. And I don't think it will."

Both coaches will be doing their best to temper emotions because both teams really could use a win.

Hopkins (2-2) is coming off one of its most disappointing losses in recent history, a quadruple-overtime 9-8 loss to Virginia at home this past Saturday, its third straight one-goal game.

But the game might be even more critical for Carolina (4-3). The Blue Jays have beaten Syracuse and Hofstra, currently No. 2 and No. 16 in the nation, respectively. The Tar Heels' lone win against a Top 20 team was an 11-10 victory at Navy, ranked 20th in the latest STX/United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association poll.

They have dropped back-to-back games against Duke and Maryland and have three games remaining until the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament. Hopkins, meanwhile, has seven games left in its season, with the only real challenges appearing to be at Maryland on April 14 and Loyola at home in its season finale on May 5.

The Blue Jays and the Tar Heels both rely heavily on their defenses - the former has given up an average of 8.3 goals per game this season; the latter, 8.9. Today's meeting promises to be a low-scoring affair with a good dose of patient, ball-controlled offense.

Maybe there's one more question to ask. Does the familiarity between the two sides give either one an advantage?

"I don't think it gives us an edge," said UNC offensive coordinator Todd Cavallaro, who filled the same role the past two seasons at Hopkins. "But we're well aware of what they have and how good that team is. And we know we're going to have to probably play our best game yet to date to win that game."

Pietramala agreed.

"After the first five minutes, all of that goes out the window," he said. "Once you get that first faceoff and that first shot and that first ground ball, both teams are going to do what they do."

Even though it might look strangely familiar.

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