Navy Vs. Syracuse

Ncaa Lacrosse Championship

May 31, 2004|By Jeff Zrebiec

2:30 P.M., ESPN

Key factors

Tempo: These teams are capable of winning games at a frenetic pace or at a deliberate one. What tempo this game will be played at is perhaps the most intriguing subplot. But normally, nobody runs and guns with Syracuse and ends up a winner.

Faceoffs: Navy junior Chris Pieczonka is one of the nation's best, winning 67 percent, including 27 of his past 33. Syracuse struggled on faceoffs all season, but the emergence of freshman Danny Brennan, who took 16 of 26 in the semifinals, has been a huge boost for the Orange.

Goalies: Against Princeton, Navy sophomore Matt Russell looked vulnerable for the first time all season, before rebounding to make a couple of huge saves. A slow start might be dangerous today against Syracuse, which features a steady goalie in Jay Pfeifer.

Stage fright: Mids coach Richie Meade has downplayed any talk about nerves, pointing to the pressures his team faces each day in Annapolis. But these are uncharted waters for the Mids, while Syracuse's seniors will be in their third national title game. Advantage, Orange.

The bottom line

As Princeton coach Bill Tierney noted Saturday, the Mids will be the crowd favorite today, but not the lacrosse favorite. That's mostly because of Syracuse's championship pedigree. Navy has actually been far more consistent than the Orange this year, and the Mids certainly appear to be as athletic and as quick.

As formidable as Syracuse looked Saturday in picking apart Hopkins, the Mids' defense probably matches up better against Syracuse because of its athleticism. If Navy stays close early and converts on unsettled situations, there's no reason to believe it cannot win, though big games from Pieczonka and Russell are musts.

But slowing Michael Powell in his last college game will be as great a lacrosse challenge as the Mids have faced.

When Navy has the ball

Navy's three attackmen complement each other perfectly. Jon Birsner is the savvy feeder, Joe Bossi is the ace finisher and Ian Dingman is the power dodger who can back his man in or draw a slide and find a teammate.

But when this team, the second-highest-scoring squad in the country, is most comfortable, everybody is getting involved, especially the midfielders, who occasionally will force the tempo, usually with great success. Graham Gill, Ben Bailey and Billy Looney are all quick and aggressive and will punish the Orange if it focuses too much on Dingman or Bossi. Gill, in particular, has emerged in this tournament.

The Midshipmen should see a variety of looks from the much-improved Syracuse defense, which switched to man-to-man and to variations of a zone on almost every possession against Hopkins.

Syracuse could easily shut off Dingman, as it did the Jays' Conor Ford, but Navy will still get opportunities. However, the Mids will have to shoot better than they did against Princeton because Orange goalie Jay Pfeifer is playing very well.

When Syracuse has the ball

Teams defending Syracuse have a lot more to think about than just the Orange attackmen.

But, of course, as long as Michael Powell, the school's all-time leading scorer, is still in an Orange uniform, that's where you must start.

Powell (46 goals, 37 assists) has talked often about giving himself a proper sendoff, and he'll get that opportunity today. Mitch Hendler, Navy's best defenseman who did a nice job of containing Princeton's Ryan Boyle on Saturday, might get the task of guarding the Syracuse star, who is more than content to draw attention away and let his teammates shine.

Hopkins packed it in and didn't let Powell or attackman Brian Crockett (36 goals) get inside much, but Orange midfielders, such as Kevin Dougherty and Steve Vallone, had too many open looks and had a field day.

Expect Navy, whose defense is more athletic than Hopkins', to be a little more aggressive on the perimeter and not allow Orange shooters to get too comfortable.

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