Slow starts can lead to quick NCAA elimination

Reduced at-large bids put pressure on teams


College Lacrosse

March 13, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

If you want to play in May, you've got to work in March.

With at-large bids to the NCAA tournament shrinking to six this season, early matchups that used to be just important have become crucial.

Bill Dirrigl, the new boss at Loyola College, said the chase for playoff spots is a marathon, not a sprint, but if a team can't get out of the blocks, it won't be able to jockey for position at the end.

Some sense the urgency of the moment.

On March 2, Johns Hopkins appeared hungrier than Princeton, and its hustling for ground balls was a factor as the Blue Jays knocked off the defending champion.

When it faced Towson, Maryland played with a sense of desperation uncommon for the second Saturday in March. The Terps were coming off an overtime loss at Duke, and they knew that a second straight setback might put their NCAA hopes on life support.

To review: With the Metro Atlantic champion gaining an automatic bid and Hofstra and Towson's departure weakening the America East, teams that would have been final four material last year won't even make the field.

The crowd chasing the six at-large bids includes independents Syracuse and Johns Hopkins, the four Atlantic Coast Conference teams, the big three from the Colonial (Hofstra, Loyola and Towson); and also-rans from the Ivy League and ECAC.

"You have to play a good schedule and come up with some big wins, or pay for a ticket come May," Syracuse coach John Desko said.

Desko has a veteran team that has played well enough to win at No. 3 Virginia and in the Denver Pioneer Faceoff Classic. The No. 1 Orangemen struggled to pull away from the home team out in Colorado, and they'll have to be sharper at No. 2 Hopkins on Saturday.

From attackman Mike Powell up top to defenseman John Glatzel (Boys' Latin) in the back, Syracuse fields the best talent in the nation.

Greyhounds' hero

Playing in pain, Mike Sullivan has set the tone for No. 4 Loyola, where graduation and academic defections were supposed to slow the start of the Dirrigl era.

Like an NFL veteran, Sullivan rests during the week, but is ready on game day.

Both of his knees were injured last year, and Sullivan sat out fall practice. He turned an ankle at Delaware and left the opener on crutches, then took a nasty hit in assisting on the game-winner at Hofstra.

Sullivan was an inspiration in a win over Duke, then underwent an MRI Monday night. He could undergo surgery this week to clean up floating bone chips in one of his knees, and return just in time for the Towson game March 30.

Player of the Week

Mike Mollot scored 19 goals for Maryland last season, but he had a career-high five in a 15-10 win over Towson on Saturday. The junior from Holbrook, N.Y., alternated on attack with Mike LaMonica, and their midfield runs helped defuse the Tigers' transition game.

Game of the Week

Syracuse-Hopkins on Saturday is for No. 1, but it's not the most important game in Baltimore this weekend. Virginia is at No. 7 Towson on Sunday, and for the automatic qualifying reasons stated above, it's a must win for the Tigers, and close to it for the Cavaliers.

Virginia follows with Hopkins, then has road trips to Maryland and North Carolina. Towson has just two more cracks at Top 10 opponents, and rivalries with Hopkins and Loyola already pack plenty of emotion.

Et cetera

The rest of Navy's home games will be played at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium. ... Army coach Jack Emmer passed Roy Simmons and moved into the No. 2 position on the all-time wins list with his 291st, a 14-11 win over Hobart.

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