Hopkins vs. Delaware

Lacrosse Final Four

May 26, 2007|By GARY LAMBRECHT

3 Things to watch

Bright lights

How will Delaware handle the stage? The attendance at all of Delaware's previous 18 games might be less than the throng that shows up at M&T Bank Stadium, where well over 50,000 are expected to attend. The crowd probably will be behind Cinderella, but the Blue Hens might need to get off to a good start to stave off Hopkins.

Control of the ball

How will Hopkins junior midfielder-faceoff man Stephen Peyser fare against Delaware senior Alex Smith, who is being mentioned as the best who has ever worked at the position? Smith has not been as dominant against high-quality teams, and Hopkins is looking to win at least one-third of its attempts. Wing play could be huge.

Are Hens set in goal?

Delaware junior goalie Tommy Scherr has gotten on a roll lately, but he hasn't faced the quantity and quality of shooters Hopkins will bring. Nor has he faced a team with midfielders such as Paul Rabil and Peyser, or a second line with dodgers and shooters such as Mark Bryan and Brian Christopher.

Key matchups

So much of the contest is riding on Alex Smith (Boys' Latin), whose ability to gain extra possessions for the Blue Hens has been huge. Stephen Peyser, with help from Jamison Koesterer, must prevent Smith from dominating the faceoff circle. Hopkins senior long-stick midfielder Brendan Skakandi figures to draw either Jordan Hall or Dan Deckelbaum (Owings Mills), senior midfielders who set the tone with their speed, size and physical nature. It will be interesting to see how much Hopkins covers both midfielders with long sticks.

Coaches

Talk about a contrast. Dave Pietramala, Hopkins' seventh-year coach, is coaching in his fifth final four dating to 2002. He has an 83-19 record at Hopkins and is the only person in lacrosse history who has won a Division I title as a player (1987) and a coach (2005). He also is the only one among four coaches working at M&T Bank Stadium who has coached in a final four. Delaware's Bob Shillinglaw owns a 240-214 record over 29 seasons with the Blue Hens and has won 13 conference titles in four different leagues. This is only the fourth time he has taken Delaware to the NCAA tournament.

When Delaware has the ball

The Blue Hens will try to take advantage of their size and athleticism in the midfield, where Hall and Deckelbaum - each has scored 26 goals - are always in the attack mode and love breaking down defenses by going hard to the goal. Senior attackman Adam Zuder-Havens, 6 feet, 200 pounds, leads a burly attack group with 35 goals and 11 assists. The difference-maker could be 6-1 freshman attackman Curtis Dickson (20 goals), the Canadian who came on strong after becoming a starter in midseason.

When Hopkins has the ball

This balanced offense starts with junior midfielder Paul Rabil (25 goals, 21 assists), who seems like a shoo-in for his second straight first-team All-America honor. Rabil's passing has been superb throughout Hopkins' seven-game winning streak, and he sets it up by drawing a ton of attention. He is a major reason Hopkins is so balanced. Attackmen Kevin Huntley (19 goals) and Jake Byrne (26 goals) have been open a lot lately, and freshman attackman Steven Boyle (35 points) and freshman midfielder Michael Kimmel (20 goals) can create their own shots.

Bottom line

Delaware is a great story, and it's just what the NCAA needs in this tournament. The Blue Hens, like Massachusetts a year ago, are a symbol of the parity that has enveloped the game. And this team believes it can keep going. Why wouldn't it after walloping Virginia two weeks ago? If Smith can win enough faceoffs and Tommy Scherr (Mount St. Joseph) can make a handful of spectacular saves, the Blue Hens could move on. But Hopkins, with so many good shooters, more depth and a much-improved defense, will not let that happen.

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