Steadfast defense, reliable midfield fuel Mids' 6-0 start

Hopkins' `Big Four' begin season slowly

Men's Notebook

March 21, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,SUN REPORTER

The faces have changed at some key positions in Annapolis, but the Navy men's lacrosse formula continues to thrive.

Control faceoffs and dominate time of possession. Bully the opponent with physical, man-to-man defense. Look for transition opportunities constantly. Wear people down by using a rotation approaching 30 players.

The No. 5 Midshipmen (6-0), who have feasted on three Patriot League opponents and are looking to knock off visiting Colgate today, are off to their best start since 1989 and the best ever under 13-year coach Richie Meade.

Sure, they have yet to confront the meat of their schedule - top 10 teams Georgetown, Maryland, Army and Johns Hopkins. But the Mids have almost satisfied Meade to this point.

Their only blemish has been a tendency to start sluggishly against inferior competition. In the first quarter, Navy has outscored its opponents 12-9. In the second and third quarters, the combined margin is 44-11.

"We're not a family in denial here. [The slow start] is an issue," Meade said. "It's a lot easier to enjoy it when you're 6-0. I don't mind scoring seven goals in the third quarter, but I'd like to not have to.

"The 2004 team [that went to the NCAA title game] had that personality where we came out and punched you in the face, got a good lead early and kept playing hard. Every year is a different journey."

Defense typically rules at Navy. This year is no different, even with senior and first-year starter Colin Finnegan at goalie, where he replaced perennial All-American Matt Russell. The Mids are allowing just 4.5 goals per game on 16.6 percent shooting.

Holding the ball effectively makes any defense look good, and the Mids are playing their usual brand of keep-away. Senior William Wallace leads a three-man faceoff group that has won 62.2 percent of its draws.

But a year after losing standout setup men in attackman Jon Birsner and midfielder Steve Looney, Navy has shown it still knows how to finish.

Sophomore attackman Bruce Nechanicky (11 points) has taken over Birsner's role as a prime feeder. A deep midfield led by seniors Billy Looney and Tommy Wallin and freshman Basil Daratsos - 25 points among them - is presenting consistent matchup problems.

And the one-two attack punch of senior Ian Dingman (13 goals) and junior Nick Mirabito (12 goals, eight assists) has been overpowering.

"We have a lot of guys who can score, and we're scoring a lot of goals," Mirabito said.

Navy, which blew away No. 15 North Carolina, 19-8, on March 2, is scoring 12 goals per game.

Veteran slump

Before third-ranked Johns Hopkins went to Syracuse and embarrassed the Orange, 17-9, on Saturday, Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said it was about time for the "Big Four" to come alive on offense. With freshmen Steven Boyle and Michael Kimmel leading the unit, veterans Paul Rabil, Kevin Huntley, Jake Byrne and Stephen Peyser had scored 15 goals on 19.2 percent shooting.

Hopkins started fixing that problem. Rabil and Byrne both produced their first hat tricks of the season. Huntley and Peyser each scored a goal, but still are struggling. Huntley (five goals) is shooting 23.8 percent. Peyser (three goals) is stuck at 12.5 percent.

"We've been getting really good shots, but sometimes it's such a mental thing," Pietramala said. "You get inside your own head and you can't get out of it. We're telling them just throw the ball at the goal. Don't try to be perfect."

Orange struggling

Having two or more losses before April used to be a rare thing at Syracuse. Not anymore. The 2-3 Orange has suffered its third poor start in a row.

Last season, Syracuse recovered from an injury-riddled, 1-4 opening to win nine straight and return to the NCAA tournament final four. A year earlier, a 1-3 start led to a 7-6 finish and the school's first final four miss after 22 straight trips.

gary.lambrecht@baltsun.com

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