Our brand of stickball

June 01, 2005

ALL IS right in the rarefied world of lacrosse: The men's national title has been returned to Homewood. The Johns Hopkins Blue Jays capped an undefeated season in exciting fashion Monday, beating Duke in a 9-8 battle after nearly losing in the semifinals to Virginia. Appropriately enough, both games featured the kind of tough, unyielding defensive effort that Coach Dave Pietramala embodied as a player on the last championship Blue Jays team 18 years ago.

But wait, it gets better for Maryland lacrosse fans. Hopkins' historic domination of the sport is one thing, but how about Salisbury University? The Eastern Shore college can also boast an undefeated season and a national title. The Sea Gulls beat Middlebury College, 11-10, on Sunday, the winning goal scored with just 5.6 seconds left in the game. And the relative upstart Gulls may be crowing louder than the Blue Jays after their weekend triumph. Salisbury's title was its third consecutive. It has now won 49 straight games, an NCAA record.

By any measure, the lacrosse players of Maryland dominate the sport in a manner rarely seen in competitive athletics of any type. On the college level, Maryland teams are familiar names in the polls. In Division I, the Naval Academy, the University of Maryland and Towson University earned top-20 rankings this season. In Division III, one of Salisbury's toughest foes, Washington College, is only a 90-minute drive away in Chestertown. On the women's side, Maryland, Hopkins, Towson, Salisbury, St. Mary's, Goucher and McDaniel had big years, too. And no evaluation of the nation's best high school lacrosse teams would be complete without a mention of Baltimore schools such as Gilman or Howard County's Mount Hebron, whose girls lacrosse team recently won its ninth straight state title.

Even the weekend's runner-ups, Duke University and Middlebury, are tributes to Maryland's influence on lacrosse. Duke has eight players from the Free State on its men's roster. Middlebury's best player, All-American Ed Brown, came to Vermont by way of Baltimore.

It's a rare combination of speed, agility, strength, endurance, intelligence and toughness that makes a great lacrosse player. Oh, and a willingness to get hit in the head with a 3-foot stick. College lacrosse stars don't sign multimillion-dollar pro contracts and endorsement deals. An NCAA title will likely be the pinnacle of a lacrosse career. It makes the achievement all the more special - and adds new luster to Maryland's golden throne on top of a noble sport.

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