Rabil doesn't grab spotlight, but he's shining for Hopkins


May 29, 2007|By MIKE PRESTON

In the game among the stars, Johns Hopkins junior midfielder Paul Rabil was the best player on the field yesterday.

Duke attackman Matt Danowski had a goal and an assist. His running mate, Zack Greer, had one assist. Hopkins' Jesse Schwartzman was named the Division I tournament Most Outstanding Player, but goalies get those type of awards when they show up at crunch times of games.

From beginning to end in the championship game at M&T Bank Stadium, the sport's biggest stage belonged to Rabil, who set the tone by contributing on the Blue Jays' first two and last two goals, including the game-winner with 3:25 remaining.

As the Blue Jays drenched coach Dave Pietramala in ice water and Schwartzman ran around the field hoisting the NCAA trophy in front of Hopkins fans, Rabil rolled on the field with teammates celebrating the team's hard-fought 12-11 victory.

Nobody deserved to celebrate more.

On the game-winning goal by attackman Kevin Huntley, Rabil picked up a ground ball near midfield, turned and ran about 10 yards before hurling a 20-yard pass to Huntley to the left of the crease. Goal. Goodbye, Duke.

It was a vintage, hustling play by Rabil, a Gaithersburg native who had a goal and five assists yesterday. There were no wrap-around or elevator shots, but Rabil quietly controlled the game's pace, especially in the first half when Hopkins took a 10-4 lead. Duke couldn't stop him with long-pole or short-pole defensive specialists. He dominated the pace.

As long as fellow Hopkins middie Stephen Peyser controlled the faceoffs, Rabil ran the game.

"Most of that first half was like a two-man show," Duke coach John Danowski said. "We didn't have an answer for either one of them. They did a good job of throwing the ball back, and we didn't do a great job of playing good team defense."

Rabil is one of lacrosse's up-and-coming stars. At 6 feet 3 and 220 pounds, he is as big as midfielders Paul and Gary Gait, the Syracuse twins who led the Orange to three titles in the late 1980s and early 1990s. He has the speed of former Blue Jays midfielder Kyle Harrison, who helped the Blue Jays win the title in 2005.

Pietramala, a former Hopkins player and one of the greatest defenseman to ever play the game, had some great one-on-one matchups with Gary Gait and coached Harrison. He sees Rabil in the same mold. In fact, Harrison still works with Rabil with his shooting once a week.

"Paul is still learning how great he can be," Pietramala said. "You saw a huge growth spurt from Paul Rabil this year. At the beginning of the year, he struggled a little bit with his scoring because everybody was keying on Paul. He'd get the pole, they'd push out, he would dodge and before he even hit the box, they'd get the slide and he'd get the double team.

"Two years ago Paul was the third option on that team with Greg Peyser and Kyle Harrison, and that was a neat opportunity for him.

"Last year, Paul burst onto the scene a little bit more," Pietramala added. "I'm looking at the stat sheet; he had five assists. You couldn't have seen that from Paul at the beginning of this season. You couldn't have seen that last year. The sky is the limit for this kid."

Rabil has come up big for Hopkins most of the season. Before the final four began, he led the team in scoring with 25 goals and 21 assists. He easily could have gotten overshadowed in yesterday's game by Greer or Danowski, or even his own teammates.

But Danowski never seemed comfortable. He repeatedly tried to force passes inside and appeared to cave in to the pressure once Duke fell behind midway in the second quarter. Greer couldn't shake Blue Jays defenseman Eric Zerrlaut, who refused to leave him uncovered on the crease. And when Hopkins was shutting the dynamic duo down, the Blue Devils had to settle with watching Rabil because he helped the Blue Jays control the ball.

There were numerous times when Rabil isolated on Duke midfielders and even defensemen Nick O'Hara and Casey Carroll, and they couldn't contain him. Rabil's first step is lethal, and his only goal came at a critical time. He blew by Carroll for a runner just inside the restraining line with 13:59 left in the game. The goal was only one of two scored by Hopkins in the second half and halted a five-goal run by Duke.

"There are some similarities to the '05 team," Pietramala said of his first national championship team. "People say we don't have a Kyle Harrison, but we have a Paul Rabil and Paul Rabil is a pretty good player."

Rabil took control early, feeding attackman Jake Byrne off a faceoff for a goal 12 seconds into the game. About 7 1/2 minutes later, Rabil fed Huntley for another goal and a 2-0 lead.

"Hopkins wanted to take the air out of it, they didn't want to run with us, they didn't want us to get into the transition," Matt Danowski said. "Hats off to them, they did what they wanted to do. They controlled the tempo of the game."

And Duke never did find an answer for Rabil, who quietly became the player of the game.


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