Sequel to '00 a logical conclusion

Princeton, Syracuse, owning 11 of past 13 titles, meet yet again


NCAA Lacrosse Championship

May 28, 2001|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PISCATAWAY, N.J. - College lacrosse was wild and unpredictable in March and April, when the No. 1 team lost on four successive weekends.

Princeton coach Bill Tierney said 2001 was "maybe the craziest season I've ever seen," but sanity has been restored at Rutgers Stadium, where his top-ranked Tigers will take on top-seeded Syracuse today (11 a.m., ESPN) in the NCAA tournament final. Isn't this what both sides have anticipated since the Orangemen crushed Princeton in last year's title game?

"I'd be lying if I said no," Princeton senior Ryan Mollett said. "It's kind of expected. It's what we hoped for. My good friend John Glatzel has been talking about this all year. When we talk on the phone, he always said, `See you on Memorial Day.' Syracuse is a little more confident. I would always say, `We have to win our quarterfinal. We have to win our semi.' Yet here it is, Syracuse and Princeton on Memorial Day."

Mollett and Glatzel, prime contenders for national Defenseman of the Year, could be poster boys for the sport's two elite programs, which have combined to win eight of the past nine titles and 11 of the past 13.

Glatzel was a recruiting steal for Syracuse, and started as a freshman. He was The Sun's Player of the Year in 1997 for Boys' Latin, a legendary, loaded squad that included Mollett in the midfield. Mollett is the Ivy League Player of the Year, but he rode the Princeton bench as a freshman and didn't move to close defense until last year.

His talent was molded to fit Tierney's system, which, with five titles in the 1990s, became college lacrosse's most successful program. The Tigers have eclipsed Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Virginia, but there is one opponent that makes them squeamish. Since 1991, Syracuse is the only team to beat Princeton in the NCAA tournament, and recently the series has turned into a non-rivalry.

John Desko's Orangemen have outscored the Tigers 43-19 in their past three meetings. Syracuse lost to Hopkins and Loyola this season, but on March 24, it sped to a 6-1 lead on Princeton. In last year's final, the Orange scored five goals before the Tigers finally beat goalie Rob Mulligan. A month earlier, Syracuse routed Princeton, 16-4, the Tigers' worst loss since 1988, the year Tierney took over.

Aside from talent such as Glatzel, rookie attackman Michael Powell and faceoff ace Chris Cercy, why has Syracuse so dominated a program that owns everyone else?

"The last three times we played, Syracuse got a big lead," Mollett said. "You give them a lead, and they're very dangerous. They love to move the ball around, throw passes around the back, do things that other teams are afraid to do, but those are things that win lacrosse games. They don't have any remorse about making mistakes. They don't care. Usually, that's when the ball winds up in the back of the net.

"Syracuse has done well against our defense because they're slick with their sticks. A lot of people have trouble with our slides, but Syracuse moves the ball so quickly, faster than our defense can rotate sometimes. Hopefully, we can do something to combat that. They had the better team last year, and there was a different mind-set then. We were exhausted."

The Tigers won't exactly skip onto the field today. While Syracuse scored the winning goal in the 18th minute and Desko used a fourth midfield in Saturday's semifinal rout of Notre Dame, Princeton had to play 60 minutes against Towson. Midfielder Kyle Baugher, one of the Tierney's best short-stick defensive midfielders, broke a wrist in that game, and his absence will tax the Tigers' defense.

Mollett has been pondering history for the past week. His father played for Towson's Division II champions in 1974. Mollett reminisced about how he, Glatzel and four other All-Metro teammates from Boys' Latin nearly went together to Hopkins, which would have altered the power structure in Division I and maybe saved Tony Seaman's job at Homewood. He said he understands his class' place at Princeton is in the balance.

"We want this pretty badly," Mollett said of Princeton's senior class, who were freshmen when the Tigers took their last title. "Not many of us had a big role in that game. It would be hard to go out [with a loss], and let the legacy die down a little bit."

Mollett made a monster play that helped beat Towson. After he worked a wing on the pivotal faceoff, his long stick produced the game-winning assist. There were plenty of pats on the back Saturday night, including one from Glatzel.

"He called me on my cell phone," Mollett said. "John congratulated me on my game-winning assist, and told me I wasn't going to get any points in the final."

Title game

Teams: Syracuse (13-2) vs. Princeton (13-1)

Site: Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

Time: 11 a.m. today


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