For Terps' Passavia, it's a chase mentality

Lacrosse: The defenseman will need to be at his hard-nosed best today when No. 5 Maryland faces No. 3 Johns Hopkins.

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

COLLEGE PARK - Chris Passavia is a psychology major who used to turn into Pavlov's dog on a lacrosse field.

Blow a whistle and watch him chase the ball.

The honors student has a neat balance in his life, but on game day, that beautiful mind can follow one track: locate the opponent with possession and terminate control.

Terps coach Dave Cottle has seen enough basketball to consider a twist on the box-and-one. Instead of marking just one man, let Passavia do what comes naturally: follow the ball and disrupt every offensive touch.

"He's a work in progress," Cottle said. "As a coach, you would always rather have to put the brakes on a player than have to push on the gas.

"Chris plays at such a high emotional level, it takes him a while to catch his breath before he can gather himself and say, `Here's what's going on.' He goes through an adjustment period early in every game."

All of the Terps need to be on top of theirs from the start today (3 p.m., Channel 2) at Homewood Field, where No. 5 Maryland challenges No. 3 Johns Hopkins in the 98th edition of their hostilities.

Passavia is the last teen-ager at Maryland whom you would expect to walk the line that determines control at the defensive end.

As a high school senior, he disappointed some when he didn't play football.

In addition to having one of Long Island's top prep lacrosse programs, Ward Melville High has a renowned drama department, and in the fall of 1999 Passavia was the male lead in Bye Bye Birdie, belting out show tunes instead of running backs.

He hauled down a 3.23 grade-point average last semester, and will likely attend graduate school. Passavia turned down Princeton to enroll in the Gemstone Honors program at Maryland and join his brother, Willy, a junior midfielder who has three goals and three assists this season.

At Ward Melville, Chris lost once, to West Genesee and Loyola's Stephen Brundage in a New York State high school title game in 1998, when both were sophomores.

Passavia wanted to experience college lacrosse as the hunter rather than the hunted, although the former was his forte in high school.

"We played somewhat of a zone in high school, and I was designated as the slider," Passavia said. "My teammates locked onto their men, and forced the guy with the ball to go one on one against me, or run away. If he did that, it gave me time to throw checks on other people."

Last spring, Inside Lacrosse gave Passavia its "Ginsu Award," for the checking ability that allowed him to "slice and dice" opposing attackmen.

He did not, however, exactly enjoy a smooth transition to college. He didn't start until Maryland's sixth game, and it wasn't just because of former coach Dick Edell's aversion to freshmen.

"I came here expecting to do great things on the field and in the classroom," Passavia said. "I had a lot to learn, I had to get organized in both areas. I had to let `Big Man' put me in my place.

"I've definitely curbed some of my roaming. You watch film from last year. I'm on one guy, he passes and I go to the next guy with the ball. He passes, and I follow it. It looks like I'm running in circles. That's not the most efficient way to play the game."

Passavia has served 11 penalties, which make up one-fifth of Maryland's total.

Junior Michael Howley, a member of the U.S. world team, is Maryland's most accomplished defenseman, and Cottle exploits Passavia's nature by putting him on an opponent who likes to carry the ball.

If that offensive player is savvy enough to keep moving when he doesn't have it, the 6-foot-1, 205-pound Passavia can get burned. When Virginia beat Maryland, 11-10, Cavaliers freshman John Christmas had four goals and an assist.

"Christmas did a great job of moving to open space," Passavia said. "He's indicative of the kind of guys I have to play. If I'm not careful, they can hurt you."

After losing that confrontation, which matched maybe the two best young athletes in college lacrosse, Passavia's mature, tempered play in the clutch clinched last week's 6-5 win over Navy.

With the Midshipmen in possession in the closing seconds, a short-stick midfielder screened for Ben Bailey. The shortest path would have been to fight through the pick, but Passavia slid behind it and then made the strip that sealed the outcome.

He isn't old, so you can teach Pavlov's dog a new trick.

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