Survivors show experience semi-sweet

Upstart Navy joins trio with 58 Final Four trips

May 24, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec | Jeff Zrebiec,SUN STAFF

As the No. 1 team for much of the season, Johns Hopkins was expected to reach the final four of the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament.

So was Syracuse. After all, you don't make 21 straight trips to the NCAA semifinals without creating expectations along the way.

People learned long ago to not count out coach Bill Tierney's Princeton teams, but where did Navy come from?

After a regular season that offered plenty of surprises - Ohio State and Army spending time in the top 10 and reigning national champion Virginia not making the tournament, just to name a few - college lacrosse's pinnacle weekend at M&T Bank Stadium is closer to the status quo.

Princeton, Johns Hopkins and Syracuse have combined for 58 final four appearances. The Midshipmen have been to the semifinals eight times, but this is their first trip since 1981.

Top-seeded Johns Hopkins and Syracuse, the fourth seed, will play the first semifinal at 11:30 a.m. Saturday; Princeton and Navy will follow at 2 p.m. The winners will play for the national championship May 31.

"Obviously, we're excited," Midshipmen coach Richie Meade said in a televised interview after his team's 6-5 quarterfinal win over Cornell yesterday. "We have to feel like we have as good a shot as anybody else."

The Midshipmen (14-2) will be playing a Princeton team of unprecedented youth under Tierney.

The Tigers (11-3) have ridden the talents of junior attackman Jason Doneger (34 goals) and senior attackman Ryan Boyle (58 points) in addition to getting big contributions from underclassmen.

"[Associate coach David Metzbower] has taken this group of young guys and molded them into something special," said Tierney whose team hasn't lost an NCAA tournament game to a team other than Syracuse since 1991. They are 27-6 with six national titles during that stretch. "And Ryan Boyle has done a great job of carrying this team."

The quarterback of the Tigers' offense, Boyle - the hero in Saturday's 9-8 overtime win over Maryland - will be up against a defense that allows the fewest goals per game in the nation (6.62 average). The Mids have given up 10 goals or more just three times all season.

The Johns Hopkins-Syracuse semifinal will be a rematch of a regular-season contest and the opening game of last season's final four. The Blue Jays outscored Syracuse, 36-13, in those two games. In a 17-5 win in late March, the Blue Jays (13-1) humbled the Orange (13-2) in almost every facet, starting with faceoffs (they won 20 of 24).

The Blue Jays scored pretty much at will - they enjoyed a 13-1 run - and the combination of defenseman Tom Garvey and goalie Scott Smith held Syracuse star attackman Michael Powell scoreless.

But Syracuse's faceoff game and defense have improved steadily throughout the season and they bring to Baltimore the most prolific offense in the country, averaging 14.4 goals per game.

"Since that Syracuse game, I think we're yet to play a full game," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "But hopefully, we're starting to play our best lacrosse toward the end of the season."

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