Maybe it was the two weeks off. Maybe it was nerves.
Or, maybe it just took Navy's men's lacrosse team a little extra time to get warmed up.
Whatever it was that caused the Mids' sluggish start yesterday, it certainly doesn't matter now. Navy shook off a clumsy first quarter in its first-round NCAA tournament game against Pennsylvania, and then steamrollered the Quakers over the final three quarters, getting four goals from attackman Joe Bossi in an 11-5 victory at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in front of 2,845.
The win was expected for the second-ranked Mids, but it was still special, considering that Navy - the tournament's No. 2 seed - hadn't won a tournament game since 1989. The Mids (13-2) will travel to Ithaca, N.Y., to face sixth-seeded Cornell on Sunday.
"It was apparent that we haven't played in two weeks," said Navy coach Richie Meade. "I think we struggled offensively at times a little bit. Our choices with the ball were bewildering at times, but I really thought physically we played hard and played at a pace that Penn had to try to deal with throughout the game."
Dealing with the Mids' multitalented attack, which has worn down opponents all season, is no easy task, especially when temperatures are in the mid-80s, as they were yesterday. Navy led just 1-0 at the end of the first quarter, and Penn quickly tied it 52 seconds into the second period on a goal by Mark Becker. The Mids, meanwhile, were missing ground balls, throwing passes out of bounds and getting out-hustled.
But Penn's ultimate undoing, as coach Brian Voelker put it, was Navy's ability to "come at you in waves." Meade substituted often, using 26 players, to wear down the Quakers. In the second quarter, Graham Gill, Taylor Harris and Ben Bailey - all second- or third-line players for Navy - scored to give the Mids a 4-1 advantage.
"They have a lot of guys who can attack," Voelker said. "They have so many weapons, it's tough to stay with them the whole time."
Penn (7-7), which was playing in its first NCAA tournament game since 1989, made a little run in the third period, getting a goal from senior attackman Will Phillips (Annapolis) and two from P.J. Gilbert. Yet the Quakers were still behind 7-4, thanks to Bossi and attackman Ian Dingman.
Dingman, a 6-foot-3, 250-pound sophomore, has been one of the toughest covers in the country for defenses this year because of his size, skills and vision. In the third quarter, Dingman threaded two perfect passes that hit a wide-open Bossi in stride just as he cut in front of the net. Both times, Bossi beat Penn goalie Ryan Kelly from point-blank range. Bossi added a third goal minutes later, easily beating his man one-on-one from 15 feet.
"We tried to keep a short stick midfielder on [Bossi] and it worked for the first half," Voelker said. "It worked for the first half of the game, but not so well in the second half."
"I just saw an opening," Bossi said. "They were trying to switch when I cut and Ian found me open."
Navy shut the door in the fourth quarter, getting goals from Dingman, Bossi, Gill and Ben Horn. For the game, the Mids outshot Penn 36-18 and scored on three of their four extra-man opportunities.
Meade said the Mids are undaunted by facing Cornell in what essentially will be a home game for the sixth-seeded Big Red.
"It doesn't matter where we're playing them," Meade said. "Everybody has a cross to bear in the tournament. That's where the fight is, so that's where we'll go."
Said Dingman: "We're in this to win the whole thing. If we play well, and don't make foolish decisions, then we're going to be very tough to beat."
NOTE: Navy's game against Cornell will start at noon and will be broadcast live on Comcast SportsNet.
Penn 0 1 3 1 - 5
Navy 1 3 3 4 - 11
Goals: P-Gilbert 2, Phillips, Eberstein, Becker; N-Bossi 4, Dingman 2, Gill 2, Bailey, Horn, Harris. Assists: P-Phillips, Reich; N-Birsner 2, Dingman 2, Gill, Looney, Midura. Saves: P-Kelly 9; N-Russell 7.