Cornell riding hottest goalie in McMonagle

ON LACROSSE

Final Four preview Cornell

College lacrosse

May 23, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

Johns Hopkins' Jesse Schwartzman can be very good or awfully bad. Duke's Dan Loftus is dependable, but not spectacular. Delaware's Tommy Scherr is an unknown, and no one can predict how he will react on college lacrosse's biggest stage.

And then there is Cornell's Matt McMonagle.

All the other big-name goalkeepers and their respective teams have been bumped from the NCAA Division I tournament, except for McMonagle. If you need a reason to pick a favorite in the final four this weekend at M&T Bank Stadium, then look no further than the senior from Bryn Mawr, Pa.

"He's the best of the remaining goalies, the best this year," said ESPN commentator Quint Kessenich, a former All-America goalie at Hopkins. "He has played at a high level all year. He is smart, moves well, explosive and doesn't allow any soft goals. He's the best goalie on the only undefeated team."

We'll find out this weekend if Cornell (15-0) can win the championship, but it's hard to bet against the Big Red and McMonagle. A hot goalie can dominate a game. He can destroy an opponent's will, and spark his team's momentum. He can control the pace of a game.

McMonagle, a second-team All-American last year, will get the ultimate test Saturday when the Big Red meets top seed Duke in the semifinals. There is not a better one-two punch in the college game than Blue Devils attackmen Matt Danowski and Zack Greer.

But McMonagle has played against the duo before, and won. In mid-March, Cornell beat Duke, 7-6, as McMonagle had 11 saves. Danowski had only two goals, and Greer finished with one.

Advantage, McMonagle.

"He is a four-year starter who has been in big games," Duke coach John Danowski said. "He is extremely confident with that defense in front of him, and is just a tough competitor."

He's been that way all year.

McMonagle has 169 saves against 505 shots this season, a save percentage of .628. He has come up big in big games, finishing with 15 saves against Notre Dame, 11 against Syracuse and 19 each against Princeton and Towson. If he hadn't played well, it's highly unlikely the Big Red would be undefeated because Cornell has won a little less than half of its faceoffs.

"I don't want to call him fearless. I guess I'll call him a courageous goalie, kind of an attacking goalie," Syracuse coach John Desko said earlier this season. "He likes to come out and attack the ball. He uses his body. He obviously tries to get his stick on it like every goalie, but he flings his legs out, he tries to attack the ball."

McMonagle is a meticulous student, both on and off the field. He is a physics major with a 4.0 grade point average. He is passionately involved with children's literacy campaigns.

As far as lacrosse, he pores over game film and studies the mechanics of shooters. He's looking at angles and projections for shots. For years, he has been the first at practice, the last to leave.

"You can't guess the right angles all the time, but every little bit helps," McMonagle said. "If the ball hits the back of the net, I know that I did not do my job. Some may see this pressure as difficult to handle, but I see it as a challenge."

You can see that attitude on the field. He isn't the biggest goalie at 5 feet 11 and 165 pounds, but he takes up most of the cage. The arms and legs are always in motion, and McMonagle has no fear of coming out of the goal to hit an opponent, or to start a clear.

He is always talking and moving. Clearly, he is the quarterback of the Big Red's defense.

"Coming into this season as a leader, I wanted to direct the defense," McMonagle said. "That means not only communicating or getting the saves, but getting that ground ball or whatever necessary to make a difference."

He took it to a new level recently. McMonagle now has a Mohawk hairdo.

"I've always tried to lead by example, and keep our focus on the field," McMonagle said. "I want our team to do well, but I also want us to have a good time because this senior class has been through a lot. This time, I got a little goofy, but I just wanted to show my teammates that I cared about them."

They already knew.

mike.preston@baltsun.com

Coming tomorrow: Johns Hopkins

Final Four

WHAT -- NCAA men's lacrosse championships

WHERE -- M&T Bank Stadium

WHEN -- Saturday through Monday

Saturday -- Division I semifinals - Johns Hopkins (11-4) vs. Delaware (13-5), noon; Duke (16-2) vs. Cornell (15-0), 2:30 p.m.

Sunday -- Division III championship - SUNY Cortland (15-5) vs. Salisbury (22-0), 1:30 p.m.; Division II championship - Mercyhurst (13-1) vs. LeMoyne (14-2), 4:30 p.m.

Monday -- Division I championship, 1 p.m.

ALL-SESSION TICKETS -- A record 45,102 all-session advance tickets have been sold. Three-day tickets for $55 and $65 remain.

SINGLE-DAY TICKETS -- On sale day before and day of games

TO PURCHASE TICKETS -- Call 410-261-RAVE

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