W2W4: Best midfields set for early showdown

February 24, 2011|By Quint Kessenich, Special to The Baltimore Sun

February lacrosse isn't pretty. It's defined by snowbanks, frozen fans, unforced turnovers, rookie mistakes and teams searching to find chemistry and an identity. Coaches are still evaluating personnel and installing systems. But with Memorial Day being the concrete finish line, teams have added games in February, instead of midweek contests in April.

"You don't want to limit a team in February," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. "You want to let them find themselves. Developing a clarity of purpose and sense of individual roles takes time."

What to watch for

Let's take a closer look at some of the key matchups Saturday:

Virginia at Stony Brook: The nation's two best midfields collide. Dom Starsia and Virginia will roll out Shamel Bratton, Rhamel Bratton, Chris Lapierre, Colin Briggs, John Haldy and freshman Rob Emery. All can fly. Stony Brook counters with Kevin Crowley, the nation's top point-producing midfielder from 2010. The Cavaliers' Bray Malphrus draws that assignment. But don't sleep on the Seawolves' Robbie Campbell (20 goals, 17 assists) and Timmy Trenkle (10, 10).

It's a rematch of the NCAA quarterfinals from 2010. Both teams can light up the scoreboard, and both have serious questions to answer on defense.

Ohio State at Massachusetts: No time for self-congratulations for the Buckeyes after their noteworthy win over North Carolina on Saturday. Coach Nick Myers is well aware of the challenges that UMass presents. "Amherst is a different environment," he said. "Thirty-foot snowbanks, cold weather, a hard and frozen surface, plus UMass returns proven playmakers with Art Kell and Will Manny."

Right now we don't know what the North Carolina win is worth. But after a 7-8 season in 2010, it's safe to say the Buckeyes are headed in the right direction. Myers has tapped into Baltimore talent and relies on three freshmen from the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association in defender Joe Meurer (McDonogh), goalie Greg Dutton (Calvert Hall) and attackman Tyler Frederick (McDonogh). Meurer, who has an outstanding motor, was the league's best defenseman last spring, Dutton is extremely athletic and active outside the crease, and Frederick can carry the rock, makes astute decisions and complements sophomores Jeff Tundo and Logan Schuss perfectly.

Georgetown at Maryland (3p.m., ESPNU): Maryland coach John Tillman gets his first taste of this Beltway rivalry. The challenges for the first-year coach are many. "Getting to know the guys, and know their strengths comes first," Tillman said. "We have an older group, so you don't want to change too much. If we ask them to over-think, it'll slow them down, and that surrenders their experience."

I watched Georgetown in Jacksonville, Fla., last Sunday. The Hoyas are committed to an up-tempo style. "The Hoyas are strong up the middle with a senior goalie [Jack Davis], defender Barney Ehrmann [Gilman], faceoff man Brian Tabb and scorer Rickey Mirabito," Tillman said. "They have the firepower to light it up."

The Hoyas' upset hopes hinge on goaltending and faceoffs. Ground balls will determine tempo. Maryland would prefer to play this game in conventional fashion, while Georgetown wants to create frenetic transition.

Georgetown appears to have stronger team chemistry this year after watching the NCAA playoffs from home for the third consecutive season. They played reckless on defense against Jacksonville and want to create transition from turnovers.

Loyola vs Towson (noon, ESPN3.com): The Greyhounds trailed Navy 7-3 at halftime last week but dominated ground balls in the final 30 minutes, beating the Mids, 9-8. Loyola isn't built to maul or dominate, and as a group it isn't overly athletic. The Greyhounds will win games with execution and effort. The ECAC appears to be a three-team race among Denver, Ohio State and Loyola.

Midfielder Josh Hawkins is one exception. He has ACC speed and power, and is a force who creates possessions off the wings on faceoffs. He's raw offensively in half-field sets but is the engine that drives the Greyhounds. Attackman Mike Sawyer is the go-to guy.

This game is simple — possessions determine the winner. Loyola has the edge on paper with faceoff man John Schiavone and long-stick Scott Ratcliff.

Princeton at Hofstra: Hofstra holds a subtle advantage, having played two games already. Princeton is playing its first. But the Pride has not been scoring goals the way I would have guessed. Hofstra returns all three attackmen (Jay Card, Jamie Lincoln and Stephen Bentz) from a team that lost in the NCAA first round to Maryland last May.

"We still have a long way to go," Pride coach Seth Tierney said. "I think we assumed it would just click. We have to tighten some things up."

Hofstra added three key transfers to its roster in the offseason: Ian Braddish (North Carolina), Zach Pall (Quinnipiac) and Steve Serling (Lafayette). Serling graduated from Lafayette and is pursuing an advanced degree at Hofstra.

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