Lacrosse Final Four

May 27, 2006|By GARY LAMBRECHT

FIRST GAME

No. 2 seed Maryland (12-4) vs. Massachusetts (12-4), 11:30 a.m.

THREE THINGS TO WATCH

How will UMass react to the stage? This is the Minutemen's first trip to the final four, and no atmosphere they have ever experienced will compare to what awaits them at Lincoln Financial Field, where more than 50,000 fans could be on hand.

What will Maryland do to counter the threat that UMass senior faceoff man Jake Deane presents? Deane, a long-stick midfielder who has scored five goals this year, including the game-winner against Fairfield, faces off with a long pole and has won 77 percent of his draws in the playoffs. The Terps spent a lot of time in practice this week addressing that problem.

If Maryland gets off to a strong start, as it has in both playoff routs over Denver and Princeton, the Minutemen could be in trouble. UMass spotted Cornell a 3-0 lead, then made up a 10-5 fourth-quarter deficit and beat Hofstra in overtime. With their balance and seasoning, the Terps will not let that happen.

KEY MATHCHUPS

Maryland attackman Joe Walters and midfielders Xander Ritz, Brendan Healy and Bill McGlone, all productive seniors, figure to draw long sticks. If Healy or McGlone finds himself covered by a short stick, watch his eyes light up as he slashes to the goal. UMass senior attackman Sean Morris must have a big game to give the Minutemen a chance to play for the title. Morris, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, ranks third in the nation with 66 points (30 goals, 36 assists). Maryland junior defenseman Steve Whittenberg leads a strong close defense, and he figures to draw Morris. UMass freshman goalie Doc Schneider has a .601 save percentage and ranks second in the nation with 188 stops. The Terps are averaging nearly 12 goals during their current 6-1 streak, and have 27 goals in their two tournament wins.

COACHES

UMass coach Greg Cannella is in his 12th year in Amherst, where he has gone 109-61. Among active coaches with at least 100 victories, Cannella's winning percentage (.641) ranks eighth. After guiding UMass to six NCAA tournaments and five quarterfinal rounds, including four quarterfinals in the past five seasons, Cannella finally broke through to the final four with last week's stunning comeback against Hofstra. Maryland's Dave Cottle, who built the Loyola College program from scratch and took the Greyhounds to 14 straight NCAA tournaments before leaving for College Park in the fall of 2001, is coaching the best of his five teams at Maryland. Cottle is possibly the best active coach never to have won a national championship. His .723 winning percentage among active coaches with at least 100 wins ranks second, and he is fifth among them with 238 victories.

WHEN UMASS HAS BALL

Morris is the man who makes the Minutemen go. He ranks fifth in the nation with 4.13 points per game, and he has had five or more points in six games. He is equally good shooting and passing. Watch the Minutemen's second midfield. It often gives UMass a huge spark, and has nearly scored as much as the first group. Junior Andrew Recchione (21 goals) has great instincts around the goal, and sophomore Rory Pedrick (10 goals, 16 assists) has nine multi-point games. Freshman attackman Jim Connolly has scored 19 goals, and he is an X-factor today. He scored a career-high five goals against Hofstra, including the game-winner.

WHEN MARYLAND HAS BALL

Two months ago, stopping Maryland would have come down to worrying mainly about Walters and Xander Ritz. That's not the case anymore. Healy is on the hottest scoring run of his career, with four hat tricks in his past five games. McGlone finished the regular season strong. Attackmen Max Ritz and Michael Phipps are goal-scoring threats, as is the second midfield of Travis Holmes, Dan Groot and Drew Evans. The Terps are not as structured as they were earlier in the year. Cottle has decided to give his athletes more freedom to dodge and break down a defense, and players such as Healy are thriving under those conditions. Look for him and McGlone to initiate from up top and test UMass. Whether Walters draws 6-foot-3 senior defenseman Jack Reid - the heart of the UMass defense - or 6-0 sophomore Sean Krygier, who shut down Hofstra attackman Athan Iannucci last week, remains to be seen.

BOTTOM LINE

UMass is a great story. The Minutemen are the first unseeded team (among a 16-team, eight-seed field) to make the final four since 1997, when Maryland went to the title game before losing to Princeton. UMass has a great scorer, depth at midfield, a tremendous faceoff man and a fine goalie. Maryland seems built to win this game, with a senior core that has been on this stage twice before and a junior class also with plenty of playoff experience and tough scheduling behind it. As long as goalie Harry Alford plays a steady game behind that proven defense, it's hard not to envision Maryland playing on Memorial Day for the first time since 1998.

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