Call it clockwork orange: Princeton vs. Syracuse

Teams' title showdown becomes rite of spring

College Lacrosse

Ncaa Lacrosse Final Four

May 27, 2002|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

PISCATAWAY, N.J. -- With six titles in the past decade, Princeton has placed its stamp on the final weekend of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.

With 20 straight appearances in the final four, it has also been great for Syracuse, but is it bad for the rest of college lacrosse that the weekend has become a two-headed monster?

"Absolutely not," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "What's great for lacrosse is what happened this year. You've got the automatic-qualifier thing. You've got teams with the opportunity to shoot for this goal. Until somebody else knocks the crown off Syracuse's or Princeton's head, if they're the two best teams, then that's what's best for lacrosse."

Princeton and Syracuse will meet in the Division I title game for the third straight time today, at Rutgers Stadium. The last time the championship game didn't include at least one of them was 1991.

The two schools have combined to win 12 of the past 14 NCAA titles. Orange coach John Desko said that familiarity hasn't bred contempt, but is a reference point for the casual fan who only tunes in on Memorial Day.

"We talk about that a lot, actually," Desko said. "I think it's good, because a lot of people have come to expect those teams and those games. They know the players really well. Sometimes, two new teams, it can be good for the game in a way, but fans show up, they don't have heroes, they don't know what to expect.

"With Princeton-Syracuse, a lot of people will show up or turn on the television set and know who a Coffman or a Powell or a Glatzel or a Boyle or a Prager is. In that aspect, it's good; it helps the game."

Tierney and Desko wouldn't be expected to downgrade their own stock, but today's participants do have some solid past performances.

Princeton won last year when Ryan Boyle fed B.J. Prager in overtime. For Syracuse, attackman Josh Coffman and defenseman John Glatzel will be appearing in their fourth straight final. They won as sophomores, handling Princeton, 13-7. They want revenge, while sophomore Michael Powell wants to experience a title like his older brothers, Casey and Ryan.

Powell typifies a trend, what Tierney described as the dog chasing his tail. Princeton wins close games and titles. The top high school prospects want to maximize their chances at a championship. Its reign is perpetuated.

"A lot of it is because we've been here before; we've been through this," Desko said. "We try to play as good a schedule as we can, and there's an expectation among our players. One of the reasons they choose to come to a Syracuse is to have an opportunity to be in this game. We tend to attract a competitor, and that allows us to be competitive in this game."

Both sides rely on players who previously starred in the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Baltimore-area high school league that is considered the best in the nation.

Glatzel and Boyle will continue a rivalry that began at Boys' Latin and Gilman, respectively. Syracuse goalie Jay Pfeifer was a prep teammate of Boyle's, as was Princeton defenseman Damien Davis. The Tigers' midfield is stocked with such McDonogh grads as Owen Daly, Brad Dumont and Joe Rosenbaum.

A veteran Princeton team went through the motions in March. It avenged a three-goal loss to Johns Hopkins in Saturday's semifinals, and wants to wipe out a similar setback it was dealt by Syracuse. The two have begun to resemble each other not just in results, but also in style. Princeton opened up its attack in April, but Syracuse has learned to pull it out.

A limited number of at-large tournament berths meant an urgent March. The quarterfinals and semifinals included six games settled by a total of seven goals, but the NCAA might as well have let the Tigers and Orangemen meet in a seven-game series.

Princeton won here last year, and Syracuse ruled at Byrd Stadium in 2000. Today is a rubber match, but they expect to be the last two standing at Ravens Stadium next year.

The championship game is another reminder that while Memorial Day is a red, white and blue holiday, it's shaded orange in men's lacrosse.

Lacrosse final

Who: Syracuse (14-2) vs. Princeton (10-4)

Where: Rutgers Stadium, Piscataway, N.J.

When: Today, 11:30 a.m.

TV: ESPN

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