North Carolina's season: high hopes to bad dream

Tar Heels are in 5-7 hole, may not earn NCAA berth

Men's notebook

College Lacrosse

April 21, 2005|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN STAFF

North Carolina senior attackman Jed Prossner did not anticipate being in this place. Nor did coach John Haus or anyone else associated with the Tar Heels, who were widely expected to make a run at an NCAA championship.

Instead, Carolina, which returned five of its top six scorers from a team that made it to the tournament's quarterfinals a year ago, began a losing habit in March and needs to pull off the highly improbable just to get into the NCAA tournament.

A year after making their first NCAA tournament after a five-year drought and after being picked to win the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Tar Heels are 5-7, winless against the ACC and fighting for their postseason lives.

The only way Carolina can survive is to avoid another loss. That means beating No. 2 Duke in the ACC tournament semifinals in eight days (6 p.m.) at M&T Bank Stadium, then beating the winner of the Virginia-Maryland (8:30 p.m.) semifinal in the title game (3:30 p.m.) on May 1.

Can you say long shot?

"It's unbelievable how we've put ourselves in a position like this. It's something I've been pondering for a while," said Prossner, the McDonogh graduate and first-team All-American.

"We haven't blended as a team. Some of us have played well. Others haven't played to their potential. Coming into the season, we thought we were a lot better than we are. Obviously, we're not."

At the top of the list of what ails Carolina is a midfield that has failed miserably on offense. Prossner and attackmen Ryan Blair and Mike McCall have combined for 70 goals and 41 assists.

Going into last night's regular-season finale at Colgate - a 12-6 win - seven Tar Heels middies - seniors Bryant Will (Dulaney) and Lance Zimmerman (Gilman), juniors Andrew McElduff and Kyle Henderson and freshmen Ryan Walterhoefer (Boys' Latin), Nick Tintle and Rob Driscoll - had combined to score 26 goals.

That's as many as Prossner has produced and two fewer than McCall.

No wonder the Tar Heels, who managed to beat No. 6 Cornell last month, got off to a 2-7 start, their worst in 38 years, and tumbled out of the Top 20.

"Everybody talks about the goals you have as a group," Haus said. "But I think we lost sight that we had to become a team [first]."

Navy tries again

No. 5 Navy, which came close to knocking off Johns Hopkins during its surprising ride to the NCAA title game in 2004, will take another shot at the top-ranked Blue Jays on Saturday. The Midshipmen could pose the last regular-season threat to Hopkins' unblemished record.

The Mids have reversed course with back-to-back victories over Maryland and Army, sewing up a berth in the NCAAs.

And with Army's victory over Holy Cross on Tuesday, Navy has secured the top seed andhome-field advantage throughout the four-team, Patriot League tournament, which will be played April 29 and May 1.

A victory at Hopkins would be a huge reversal of fortune for Navy. The Mids have lost 30 consecutive games to the Blue Jays and have not won at Homewood Field since 1969.

Small consolation

When he agreed to reschedule a snowed-out game against visiting, 17th-ranked Denver to Sunday, Virginia coach Dom Starsia worried about how the No. 4 Cavaliers would bounce back after a huge game at Duke a day earlier.

But after Duke administered a 17-2 beating - the most lopsided loss during Starsia's 13-year tenure - Virginia had to scramble to avoid a weekend sweep. In a game that featured four ties and three lead changes, the Cavs beat Denver, 9-6, then licked the wounds incurred in Durham.

"I think everybody that traveled played [at Duke]. Even our backups were horrendous. There was nowhere to turn," said Starsia, who gave the team two days off before resuming practice yesterday.

The week ahead

No. 1 Johns Hopkins (9-0)

Schedule: vs. No. 5 Navy, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Freshman attackman Kevin Huntley has started the past four games and ranks second on the team with 14 goals. Freshman midfielder Paul Rabil has started the past five games and leads the team with 15 goals. Five players have scored at least 11 goals each. Hopkins has outscored its opponents in the first quarter, 27-9.

No. 5 Navy (9-2)

Schedule: at No. 1 Johns Hopkins, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Junior midfielder Steve Looney is no longer excellent and underrated, just excellent. Looney, who ranks second on the team with 18 goals and leads the Mids with 47 ground balls, is the Patriot League's Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in 2005.

No. 10 Maryland (5-5)

Schedule: at No. 16 Fairfield, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Skinny: Maryland has averaged barely six goals during its 1-4 slide, and the Terps could be in trouble today. Fairfield, 9-2, which upset Notre Dame on Sunday and has achieved its highest ranking ever, has won seven straight and has a hot goalie in sophomore Michael Kruger (Calvert Hall).

No. 13 Towson (8-3)

Schedule: vs. No. 18 Hofstra, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.

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