Sowell has Dartmouth leaping in Ivy

Big Green's rise to 10-2, possible NCAA berth leave even coach stunned

Men's notebook

April 30, 2003|By Paul McMullen | Paul McMullen,SUN STAFF

As a player at Washington College in the early 1980s, Rick Sowell knew nothing but winning.

It was more of the same during eight seasons as an assistant coach at Georgetown, where he helped Dave Urick turn the Hoyas into a Division I contender.

So it was that Sowell packed his skepticism for a 1998 trip to Hanover, N.H. He wasn't easily sold on the coaching vacancy at Dartmouth, which was one of Princeton's whipping boys in the Ivy League.

"The program was in a shambles," Sowell said. "A lot of people thought I was crazy to put myself in a situation where I couldn't be successful, but the administration made a good sales pitch. We've built a nice stadium, with an artificial-turf field. I grew up not far from Cornell, so I know what can be done in the Ivy League, but I had no idea as to the extent that we could improve."

In 1999, his first season as a college head coach, Sowell took Dartmouth to Princeton and got destroyed, 16-1, and that wasn't one of Bill Tierney's better teams. Two years ago, the damage was 19-2 at Class of 1952 Stadium.

Dartmouth returned to New Jersey last week and registered a 13-6 victory over the Tigers. The shock value of some Syracuse losses diminishes as the Orangemen struggle, so the Big Green's conquest ranks as the most significant result of the season.

Princeton was without four regulars, including injured midfielder Owen Daly, but Dartmouth was missing its top scorer, Jamie Coffin. It was the Big Green's first victory at Princeton since 1956. It last recorded four wins in the Ivy in 1982. If it beats Harvard on Saturday, Dartmouth will share the league championship for the first time since 1965.

If Cornell, Dartmouth and Princeton all finish 5-1, the Ivy League will conduct a blind draw to see which one gets the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.

Even if Dartmouth loses the Ivy draw and the NCAA men's lacrosse committee decides that a weak nonconference schedule negates its Princeton win, Sowell will be a happy man.

"For us even to be in the discussion exceeds my wildest dreams," Sowell said.

Prospects are also noticing Dartmouth. The incoming class includes Kyle Waters, a faceoff specialist from Gilman, and Nick Bonacci, an attackman from St. Mary's. Johns Hopkins and Princeton were interested in Coffin, a freshman from Connecticut who has a team-high 35 goals despite missing three games with a broken hand.

Midfielder Russell Radebaugh, a member of one of Baltimore's biggest lacrosse clans, has 20 points and is part of the faceoff rotation. Sophomore goalie Andrew Goldstein had 17 saves against Princeton, a win that made Dartmouth No. 18 in The Sun/Channel 2 rankings. The only blemishes on its 10-2 record are losses to UMBC and Cornell.

Bracketology

At-large berths and first-round pairings will be announced Sunday night, and those trying to beat the NCAA to the punch should ponder several points.

The Division I field has expanded to 16 teams - eight will have the home-field advantage for the first round, and the men's lacrosse committee gets to set other precedents.

Towson Stadium and Syracuse's Carrier Dome will be the sites for quarterfinal doubleheaders on the tournament's second weekend. Johns Hopkins and Virginia have been the best teams in the regular season.

Nothing in the NCAA manual states that geography is more important than a balanced bracket, so don't be surprised if the Cavaliers anchor the North half of the draw.

One of the principles already in place in the at-large process is the fixation on the "big win."

Despite its struggles, Syracuse figures to receive one of the nine at-large berths because it has the only win over Johns Hopkins. Penn State has hope, since it handed Massachusetts its only loss.

A win over Maryland could again be the ticket for teams on the bubble - for the second straight year, that's the basis of Duke's case. It's also the main selling point for North Carolina, which has lost to Navy, Notre Dame and UMBC.

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