Syracuse, Princeton desperately seeking success after poor starts

Men's notebook

College Lacrosse

March 24, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

No, your eyes are not deceiving you. Syracuse and Princeton, a pair that has dominated collegiate men's lacrosse over the past 15 years, look stunningly ordinary as the regular season heads into its second month.

When they meet Saturday at Princeton, both will be desperately in need of a victory. They own a combined record of 1-6.

What in the name of blue- bloods is going on? Dating to 1990, Syracuse and Princeton have won a combined 12 NCAA championships - and four of the past five titles - and have made a combined 25 appearances in the NCAA tournament's final four. Syracuse has not missed the semifinals since 1982.

The No. 8 Orange, off to its first 1-3 start in 30 years, has lost two straight at the Carrier Dome after blowing a six-goal lead against top-ranked Johns Hopkins on Friday. Princeton, which slid to No. 12 after its 9-8 loss to then-unranked Hofstra on Saturday, is trying to avoid its first 0-4 start ever under 18-year coach Bill Tierney.

Suddenly, neither team looks like a lock to make the NCAA tournament, let alone a run at another title.

Princeton can still win another Ivy League crown and earn an automatic bid. Syracuse, an independent, had better start reeling off quality victories. The Orange might have to run the table against such top 20 opponents as Hobart, Cornell, Rutgers and Massachusetts.

"I'd by lying to you if I didn't say that loss [to Hofstra] can bring out the worst in initial thoughts. What are we doing wrong? Why am I doing this? Poor me," said Tierney, whose team, like Syracuse, also has lost to Hopkins and No. 2 Virginia.

"I know our kids are OK. They are trying too hard to be perfect. Lacrosse comes down to winning face-offs, making saves and putting the ball in the back of the net. Right now, we're not doing any of those things very well."

Inconsistent, unbalanced offense has been a problem for both teams, each of which is young in those areas. Syracuse is leaning heavily on freshman attackman Mike Leveille and sophomore midfielder Steven Brooks and is extremely young in its second-line midfield. The Orange is shooting just 23.6 percent and averaging 9.5 goals - ho-hum by Syracuse standards.

Princeton, which no longer has attackman Ryan Boyle - the Tigers' equivalent of departed Syracuse superstar Mike Powell - has averaged only seven goals so far and has gotten nearly nothing out of its midfield.

Sophomore Whitney Hayes, sophomore Mike Gaudio and junior Jim O'Brien have combined for six goals, one less than sophomore attackman Scott Sowanick, who leads the team in scoring with eight points. On top of that, senior attackman Jason Doneger, who is drawing the most attention from opposing defenses, has had only three goals.

Hopkins' streak on the line

Johns Hopkins will try to extend its home winning streak to 30 - one shy of the school record - Saturday against Virginia, the last team to win at Homewood Field. The Cavaliers (6-0), off to their best start since 1999, beat the Blue Jays, 9-8, in quadruple overtime, on March 24, 2001.

That was coach Dave Pietramala's first year at Hopkins. He is 1-4 against Virginia since returning to coach at his alma mater, including a loss in the 2003 title game.

The Blue Jays, who got a breakout game from freshman midfielder Paul Rabil (four goals) at the Carrier Dome, could get even stronger at midfield this week. Senior Matt Rewkowski, who had knee surgery six months ago, has been practicing on a limited basis. Pietramala said Rewkowski might have run with the extra-man unit at Syracuse, had the Orange been assessed a penalty.

All teams created equal?

If you don't think the slippage at Syracuse and Princeton signals an increase of parity in the game, look at Dartmouth's 7-6 upset of No. 4 Maryland on Tuesday. For the second straight week, an unranked team has beaten a top-five opponent. Bucknell did it to then No. 3 Navy a week earlier.

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