Duke plays lead role on final stage

Ncaa Lacrosse


May 21, 2007|By Gary Lambrecht | Gary Lambrecht,Sun reporter

Johns Hopkins is back where it feels it belongs, and history says the Blue Jays are right. Cornell is no longer pining to return to the stage it once occupied on a regular basis.

Delaware may need to double-check its directions to the venue where the Blue Hens are coming to crash the party as a first-time member. And then there is Duke, the near champion of 2005, the program that had its season cut short by trumped-up rape allegations a year ago, the team that is back with an edge, determined to make things right on the field.

The tens of thousands of fans who make the trek to M&T Bank Stadium this weekend to watch the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament's main event will have no shortage of story lines to ponder.

And, with apologies to Hopkins - the only local school standing, the team that missed the final four in 2006 for the first time in five years, then stormed back by crushing Georgetown in Saturday's quarterfinal - this Division I championship weekend starts with Duke, the No. 1 seed.

The Blue Devils, who lost to Hopkins, 9-8, in the 2005 title game, are back from the dead - big time.

The Blue Devils (16-2) have the best scoring combination in the land in attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer. They each dropped an astonishing 10 points on No. 8 seed North Carolina in yesterday's 19-11, quarterfinal rout. Duke has an outstanding goalie in senior Dan Loftus, speed all over the field, a batch of hustling, complementary parts.

And to get to the season finale on Memorial Day, the Blue Devils have to figure out Cornell, which might be the first lone undefeated team in the final four to play second fiddle to anyone. This, despite the fact that Cornell beat Duke, 7-6, in the regular season, behind a great game from All-America goalie Matt McMonagle.

The Big Red (15-0) had to swallow a No. 4 seed because of Rating Percentage Index and strength-of-schedule issues. They used to be among the rulers of the game. Cornell won three NCAA titles in the 1970s, played runner-up three times in the 1980s and had not been to the final four since 1988.

Before the quarterfinals, Cornell had the top-ranked scoring offense (14.36 goals per game), which it needed to outlast Albany in overtime, 12-11, on Saturday. Attackmen Eric Pittard and David Mitchell and midfielder Max Seibald set the tone, and the Big Red might be just as balanced as Duke.

Unless McMonagle and Loftus take turns dominating in the cage, as they did in the first meeting, this rematch could produce upward of 25 goals. That's how quickly the Blue Devils (12.41 goals per game) and Cornell can score.

Delaware (13-5) brings the refreshing dose to the M&T scene. The Blue Hens, under 29-year coach Bob Shillinglaw, were a severely under-funded program just a few years ago, and had a 1-3 record in NCAA tournament play, before this year.

Then came the lightning bolt. In the first round, with extraordinary faceoff man Alex Smith providing the spark, Delaware stunned second-seeded, defending national champion Virginia, 14-8.

Then, the Blue Hens knocked off unseeded UMBC yesterday to go further into uncharted territory.

On Saturday, a dangerous Delaware team with a big, athletic midfield and a core of solid upperclassmen will try to take out a Hopkins team that lives for this kind of moment. The Blue Jays are 59-27 in the NCAA tournament, are in their 27th final four and pursuing their ninth NCAA title.

On paper, it looks as if the Blue Jays should thank Virginia for delivering them a juicy final four meal. On paper, faceoff man Stephen Peyser should be able to contain Smith enough to keep the ball in Hopkins' hands enough to allow its many scoring threats to go to work.

Junior midfielder Paul Rabil did not score a goal in the Georgetown rout. Do you think that will continue Saturday? And Hopkins senior goalie Jesse Schwartzman has been known to produce big-game gems, as he did against the Hoyas.

This looks like a Duke-Hopkins rematch for the trophy. And, if Duke has to expend an inordinate amount of energy to take down Cornell, the Blue Jays could be hanging around in the fourth quarter Monday with a chance to even the score with a Duke team that edged them at Homewood last month.


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