Mount St. Mary's aiming for NCAA tourney berth


College Lacrosse

May 01, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

When Mount St. Mary's won the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference tournament last season, it got a trophy and a handshake.

If the Mountaineers can repeat, their reward will be another game, in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Coach Tom Gravante offers a counterpoint to the grumbling that this season's tournament will be watered down by automatic qualifiers at the expense of superior teams.

"This is a step forward for Division I lacrosse," Gravante said. "Look at how wacky the Ivy League has been this season. Yale was getting bombed a few seasons ago, and it beat Princeton. We joined the MAAC in 1996, and this is the first time we lost two games there. Why did that happen, and why is the Ivy so balanced? It's because of the automatic qualifier. When more schools see the possibilities, they'll put more emphasis on the sport."

Gravante brings a unique perspective to the issue of haves vs. have-nots. He played for Hobart from 1985 to '88, when it was in the midst of its 12-season run as Division III champion. Even if it doesn't make history, the Mount has provided a curious footnote. On April 20, it beat Siena, 18-0. On Feb. 26, it lost to No. 7 Maryland by the same score.

There were extenuating circumstances to that blowout in College Park. It was the Mount's third game in four days, and the first two came in the altitude of Colorado. Mount St. Mary's is 5-10, but it played UMBC, Navy and Bucknell tough.

MAAC schools are limited to four scholarships. The Mountaineers lost to Providence, their opponent in Friday's semifinals at Marist, and Manhattan, the regular-season champion that figures to emerge from the other semifinal and be in the way in Saturday's championship game.

"I'm still very confident that we can put it all together and make history, not only for the Mount, but for the conference," Gravante said. "I don't think we have played our best lacrosse yet."

Gravante has gotten another solid season out of Tom Dryer, his senior goalie from Broadneck. Josh Warfield, a junior from Fallston, has 30 goals. Most important, Gravante has his good health.

Two years ago, Gravante was diagnosed with non-Hodgkins lymphoma. He spent the winter of 2000-01 undergoing treatment at Johns Hopkins Hospital.

"I thank the Lord that I had a type of cancer that had a very high cure rate," Gravante said. "There are more nasty cancers out there, and I've met many people who have beat this. I go back to Hopkins every three months for a CAT scan and blood work, and my last check-up was wonderful."

Unseen assist

Johns Hopkins freshman Kyle Harrison has rapidly become one of the nation's premier face-off men. Volunteer assistant coach Howard Offit has been in charge of tutoring Harrison, who also passes some of the credit for his .604 percentage to Pat Miller, a fifth-year senior out of Loyola High.

Miller was a member of the Blue Jays' man-down unit as a sophomore, but he has appeared in just five games since 1999, when he fractured an ankle in a bicycle accident. A post-grad who's enrolled in the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health, Miller has made mimicking Harrison's next matchup his specialty.

"We all watch tape together, and Pat gives us the right look all week," Harrison said.

Player of the week

Chris Garrity, Penn State.

The junior goalie out of St. Mary's High had 12 saves in the Nittany Lions' 13-8 upset of Virginia. Garrity finished the season with an 8.00 goals-allowed average.

Game of the week

Washington at Salisbury, Saturday, 1 p.m.

The Sea Gulls will make their 14th straight appearance in the Division III tournament, and the "War on the Shore" has playoff implications for the Shoremen, who are after one of the two at-large berths in the NCAA's 16-team field.

Ground balls

The NCAA fields will be announced Sunday at 6:30 p.m. ... When the Division I tournament expands to 16 teams next season, the eight first-round games will be played at the higher seed. Towson and Syracuse will host quarterfinal doubleheaders in 2003, when the final four will be held at Ravens Stadium. ... Hofstra can probably ice one of those precious Division I at-large bids with a win over visiting North Carolina tonight.

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