New rule likely to keep some top `III' teams out

Number of slots reserved for league champs limits at-large tourney berths

Men's notebook

April 18, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

Imagine an NCAA lacrosse tournament without two of the nation's best teams, say, Maryland and Massachusetts. That's the prospect in Division III, where a limit of one participant per qualified league could keep contenders like Gettysburg and Salisbury State on the sidelines.

While at-large spots in the 12-team Division I field have dwindled to seven, there is no restriction on how many teams a league can get into that tournament. Division III rules mandate that eligible leagues be granted a spot in national tournaments but leave no room for also-rans from those 10 conferences to receive at-large selections.

Conferences that don't have a team receiving Top 20 votes, like the Knickerbocker, will get a place in the 14-team tournament. The NCAA men's lacrosse committee will select four "independents," which sets up a Catch-22. Traditional powers Denison and Ohio Wesleyan are rivals in the North Coast, but both could make the tournament because their league doesn't meet the NCAA standard for an automatic bid.

The new format means three-time national champion Salisbury State will miss the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1988 if it doesn't survive the Capital Athletic Conference tournament this week. The fourth-ranked Sea Gulls are 36-0 all-time in the CAC, but the first of Salisbury State's five overtime games this season came against St. Mary's, its opponent in tomorrow's semifinals.

"I told our kids St. Mary's is the biggest game of their lives," Salisbury State coach Jim Berkman said. "I hope it's not us, but somebody good is going to get beat in a conference tournament. Some of the best teams in the nation aren't excited with the new format, but a lot more teams are."

No. 2 Gettysburg figures to clinch the home-field advantage today for the Centennial Conference tournament, which will be conducted April 27 and 29. The Bullets will need to get by a Top 20 team like Western Maryland or Washington College a second time to get to the NCAAs, and coach Hank Janczyk talks like a golfer facing a 200-yard carry over a pond. He doesn't want to acknowledge the hazard in his team's path.

"I need to speak positively, but I don't agree with the new format," Janczyk said. "I believe it detracts from the tournament. You're not going to have the top 14 teams in the nation."

The tournament did in 1998, when Washington didn't win the Centennial Conference but did take the NCAA title as a late at-large selection. Washington athletic director Bryan Matthews, who chairs the NCAA men's lacrosse committee, told Shoremen coach J.B. Clarke that the Centennial tournament was all that mattered this season.

"We loaded up our schedule, and that's meant a lot of sleepless nights for him [Clarke]," Matthews said. "If you took a poll of coaches, there would be a lot of unhappy people. It's not just men's lacrosse that deals with this situation. The Division III philosophy allows for more conferences to qualify. It's that simple."

Don good goalies

Washington & Lee, the top-ranked team in Division III and the only one to beat Gettysburg, doesn't face the perils of a conference tournament and is cruising toward an Old Dominion regular-season title and an automatic bid. The Generals, who were a regular in the Division I tournament in the 1970s, are enjoying a renaissance behind a defense that is anchored by a couple of Loyola High grads.

Goalie Wes Hays and defenseman Pete Iwancio have helped W&L to a nation's-best 3.6 goals-against per game, and faceoff specialist Tom Melanson is another reason opponents average only 17 shots. All three went to Loyola.

Tim McGinnis entered this season best known as the younger brother of Maryland's Pat McGinnis, but he has carved his own niche at Gettysburg. Pat, in his first season, is allowing 6.11 goals a game, one of the best marks in Division III.

Player of the Week

Pat McGinnis, Maryland. While his younger brother shut down the Shoremen on Saturday, Pat had maybe the best game of his career, as he notched 21 saves in the Terps' 10-9 victory over Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays connected on just one of their nine fourth-quarter shots. Princeton's Trevor Tierney has taken over the national lead in goals-allowed average, but McGinnis still has the best save percentage.

Game of the Week

No. 8 Georgetown at No. 4 Massachusetts, Saturday, 1 p.m. The ECAC's automatic bid is at stake, but the loser will probably get an at-large invitation. The Minutemen and Quinnipiac are the last unbeatens in Division I, and Georgetown has lost only to Navy.

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