Hajj rises as Georgetown scoring leader

Large crowd expected for Hopkins-Navy game

Men's notebook

April 22, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

Georgetown coach Dave Urick eased Walid Hajj's transition to the college game three years ago by getting the then-freshman from McDonogh on the field as a defensive midfielder.

That position comes with sizable responsibility, but it pales in comparison to what is expected out of Hajj, now a senior - and not just by Urick.

Nine of the 12 midfielders to crack the first-, second- or third-team All-America lineup last year graduated, and Hajj, who had been content to be a role player through his early Hoyas career - never scoring more than 23 goals in a season - inherited the pressure that comes from being known as one of the country's best midfielders.

"I had a [long] pole on me last year, but we had Trevor Walker, and he was a preseason All-American," said Hajj, an honorable mention All-American last year and consensus 2004 first-team preseason pick. "This year, I've been getting a lot of attention, and you have to adjust to that."

On a team that prides itself on offensive balance, Hajj leads the Hoyas in goals (17), assists (11) and shots (53) and needs three points to pass last year's career high of 30.

"He has evolved into one of the better midfielders in the country," said Urick, whose seventh-ranked Hoyas are 7-2 entering Saturday's game against Massachusetts. "That's through his efforts. There's no great coaching involved there. Whatever he has made goal-wise, he's made that shot a hundred times before in practice."

A fast, tough midfielder with a cannon of a shot, Hajj (5 feet 11, 175 pounds) has been especially tough on synthetic turf because of his ability to stop quickly and change direction.

Hajj scored a career-high six goals earlier this month against Vermont on the turf at New Canaan (Conn.) High School and netted two more last week at Loyola.

The performances helped erase what Hajj described as "his typical slow start" to a season. He was shut out in the Hoyas' 14-5 season-opening loss to Maryland and held to an assist in Georgetown's other loss, a 7-5 setback to Navy on April 3.

"That Maryland game was probably my worst effort of the year," Hajj said. "But I'm much more comfortable now. My confidence is a lot higher, and I feel that against any team in the country, I can draw a lot of attention ... and set up my teammates."

Navy gearing up

Fans planning to attend Saturday's showdown between No. 1 Johns Hopkins and No. 2 Navy at the Mids' Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium may be well-advised to arrive long before the noon faceoff.

Even before it became clear that the game would pit the nation's top two teams, the Naval Academy was vigorously promoting the contest against the Blue Jays, whom the Mids haven't beaten since 1974, in an effort to set the NCAA lacrosse single-game, regular-season attendance record. That record was believed to be established in an 1987 game at Byrd Stadium between Maryland and Johns Hopkins that drew 19,850 fans.

More than 15,000 attended the Blue Jays' 9-8 victory over the Mids two years ago in Annapolis, but it would be fair to point out that the 2002 game - and Saturday's game - also have the advantage of being followed by the Mids' spring football game, which brings in its share of fans.

ACC tournament

Though Maryland handled Duke, 17-12, in the regular season, the Terps probably weren't all that giddy about drawing the Blue Devils for their first game of the ACC tournament tomorrow in Chapel Hill, N.C.

The teams have met in each of the past four ACC tournaments, and Duke has won three of those games. In two of the three years, the Terps won the regular-season matchup.

It's a must-win game for Duke, which has lost four straight to fall to 4-6 and would be unable to reach the .500 mark and earn NCAA tournament consideration with a loss to the Terps. The same goes for Virginia (4-6), which must beat North Carolina in the other semifinal, and then win Sunday's championship game to keep alive its NCAA hopes.

, The week ahead

No. 1 J. Hopkins (8-1)

Schedule: at No. 2 Navy, Saturday, noon

Skinny: Chalk up another edge for the Blue Jays, who were clearly the quicker and more athletic team in the grudge match with Maryland last Saturday.

Loyola (3-6)

Schedule: vs. No. 20 Pennsylvania, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Georgetown coach Dave Urick anointed Loyola the team of the future after the Hoyas' 14-10 victory Saturday. 'Hounds coach Bill Dirrigl was hoping for results sooner rather than later.

No. 3 Maryland (8-2)

Schedule: vs. No.18 Duke, tomorrow, 6 p.m. in ACC semifinals, Chapel Hill, N.C.

Skinny: It's certainly not time to panic for the Terps, but a loss to Duke would accelerate the nail-biting process. The Terps' D needs to return to its physical self because Hopkins shooters were much too comfortable Saturday.

Mount St. Mary's (3-7)

Schedule: vs. Canisius, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Time is running out for the Mount, which is two games behind Providence for fourth place in the MAAC with two games to go. The top four qualify for the league tournament.

No. 2 Navy (10-1)

Schedule: vs. No. 1 Johns Hopkins, Saturday, noon

Skinny: By now, everyone knows that the Mids are for real. But a win over Hopkins - its first since 1974 - would leave no doubt that Navy, is indeed, the best team in college lacrosse.

No. 9 Towson (7-3)

Schedule: vs. Drexel, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

Skinny: Suddenly, Jonathan Engelke is finishing like Kyle Campbell, Ben DeFelice is winning faceoffs like Justin Berry, and Reed Sothoron is stopping the ball like John Horrigan. Are the 2004 Tigers primed for a 2001-like tourney run?

UMBC (5-5)

Schedule: vs. Stony Brook, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: The Retrievers probably will be home for the America East semifinals, but the Binghamton-Albany game on May 1 could determine where UMBC will go from there.

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