Four players to watch in NCAA tournament

Clausen, Crotty, Pannell, Rodgers to play key roles

May 28, 2010|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

Names and reputations are built in the final four.

In 2008, Mike Leveille used a six-goal, four-assist performance on championship weekend to power Syracuse to the NCAA crown and collect the Tewaaraton Award. Last year, Max Seibald was — statistically speaking — the third-best player on his team, and even though he registered just three goals and one assist, his leadership carried Cornell to the NCAA tournament final.

Here are four players competing in this weekend's national semifinals who could play a significant role in determining the outcome on Memorial Day.

Virginia defenseman Ken Clausen: Two years ago, Clausen became the youngest defenseman since 1987 to make the All-America first team. On Thursday, the senior further polished his resume by becoming the program's first three-time first-team All American.

Clausen, 6 feet 2 and 201 pounds, usually gets the assignment of shadowing an opponent's top playmaker. That hasn't been a problem for Clausen, who ranks sixth among Division I players with 2.18 caused turnovers per game and is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, which recognizes the country's top lacrosse player.

The only thing that has eluded Clausen is a national title, and after two disappointing endings in the semifinals, he told the university's website, "I think we're playing like we've got a chip on our shoulders. We've caught a lot of flak over the years, and this year especially, we wanted to make a statement. We want Virginia to be known for defense, and we want teams to fear our defense as much as they fear our scoring ability on offense."

Duke attackman Ned Crotty: If — as expected — Crotty gets paired with Clausen, it will be a match-up between the two remaining Tewaaraton finalists in the tournament.

The fifth-year senior leads the nation in assists per game (3.33) and ranks second in points per game (4.56). He has compiled 144 assists in his career, which is the second-most in school history and 19th-most in NCAA history. A win today could cement the Tewaaraton for Crotty, who naturally has a loftier goal in mind.

"The one thing I do know is you increase your chances of winning with the further you go in the tournament," Crotty told LAX United last week. "But right now, I'm just focusing on the team."

Cornell attackman Rob Pannell: Pannell's absence from the list of finalists for the Tewaaraton Award has been cited as a glaring omission.

Only a sophomore, Pannell leads the country in points per game (4.59) and ranks second in assists per game (2.88). He became just the fourth sophomore to be named the Ivy League Player of the Year, and he is the undisputed quarterback of a Big Red offense that is averaging more than 11 goals this season.

"I think Rob Pannell is the best attackman in the country, and it starts there," said Army coach Joe Alberici, who witnessed Pannell's two-goal, two-assist performance in a 14-5 rout of the Black Knights in the quarterfinals. "When you start game-planning for them, you've got to start with him. He's got a unique ability of making everybody else better, but he doesn't turn the ball over. He rarely does. So now what you're relying on is goalie saves, and then you start entering the second part of the equation with them, which is they're not going to shoot the ball from very far. They're going to have good, quality opportunities."

Notre Dame goalkeeper Scott Rodgers: The 6-4, 254-pound Rodgers is one of five goalies ranked in the top 10 in both goals-against average (third with a 7.74 GAA) and save percentage (sixth with a .586 percentage). He has made 22 saves and surrendered just 10 goals in tournament wins against No. 3 seed Maryland and No. 6 seed Princeton.

Cornell coach Jeff Tambroni said one of his priorities this week has been to encourage his offensive players to test Rodgers.

"It's an extremely fine line," Tambroni said. "You have to be confident. We try to eliminate the fear of failure with our guys, especially when it comes to shooting. … You don't want them coming off the field after the goalie makes a save not feeling like they're not going to be able to score the next one."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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