Maryland-Hopkins game could come down to transition

Scoring on the run becoming more of an option for lacrosse teams across the country

April 14, 2011|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

There's a Facebook poll asking fans of the Maryland men's lacrosse team to pick their favorite goal by fifth-year senior long-stick midfielder Brian Farrell: a one-hander against Johns Hopkins in 2008 or a diving tally against Navy a week ago.

Farrell, who was unaware of the poll, said he would vote for his goal against Navy because his score against the Blue Jays in 2008 was part of a 10-4 loss.

"Everyone remembers that one-handed goal, but no one remembers that we got blown out in that game," Farrell said. "I don't really like that goal that much because it makes me think of that game."

That such a poll even exists about a player known for his defense serves as a reminder of how quickly the Terps can transform a stop into an offensive chance — a potent option in a game that has increasingly become a drawn-out chess match.

No. 7 Maryland will attempt to flex its muscles in the transition game when Johns Hopkins visits Byrd Stadium in College Park on Saturday at 8 p.m. But the No. 3 Blue Jays, who have been known for applying the brakes to the fastest sport on two feet, will run, too.

"People need to start taking the tag off of Hopkins as a slow-down team," said former Syracuse All-American midfielder Paul Carcaterra, who will provide analysis on the game for ESPNU. "They are running the ball, and they are lethal in transition because they have some athletic midfielders. Guys like [sophomore John] Ranagan and [sophomore Lee] Coppersmith, those kids can play both ends of the field and they like to get out into the open field. With that said, I feel like Maryland has some athletes in the midfield as well, but Maryland's defensive midfield with the combination of Farrell and [sophomore long-stick midfielder Jesse] Barnhardt, these guys add another dimension. When you have midfielders that can do it and long poles that can do it, that puts you over the edge."

In an age where college lacrosse is specialized with the move away from two-way midfielders and to a reliance on short-stick defensive midfielders, the transition game is an under-utilized tool to manufacture goals and shift momentum to one team's side.

Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said the benefits of exercising the transition game are obvious.

"If you can create a transition opportunity — whether it's off a ground ball, a faceoff, a save — and you have a numerical advantage, you create a very difficult situation for your opponent to defend," Pietramala said. "It's also a heck of a lot easier to score when you have a numerical advantage than when you have even numbers or no advantage whatsoever. What you're finding in this day and age of people playing different defenses and defenders being bigger, stronger and faster and there being a lot of different schemes, you'd certainly rather score in that broken transition situation. … We've tried to do that more this year than ever before because it's just easier to score goals in that fashion."

Johns Hopkins defenders have combined for eight points on five goals and three assists, but that already matches the eight points last year's unit produced.

Short-stick defensive midfielders Tim Donovan and Phil Castronova each scored a goal in the team's 11-6 victory over Albany a week ago, and Donovan said the defensive players have sensed more freedom in pressing for scoring opportunities.

"Obviously, we focus on the six-on-six game — both from an offensive and defensive perspective. But this year, it seems like — not only with us, but throughout the NCAA — that transition has really been a focal point, and there's been a lot more goals coming from that area of the game," said Donovan, a Parkton native and Loyola graduate. "For us, that's kind of been our personality and our style. So it's never really been a struggle, but it's certainly a lot of fun for us to score a little more in transition this year."

Maryland players have enjoyed the green light to shoot for years — first under former coach Dave Cottle and now under current coach John Tillman. Farrell, who has registered 28 goals and 18 assists in his career, said every defensive player is drilled on assessing transition opportunities on the fly.

"The first thing is, 'Don't throw it away. Don't do anything stupid,' " said Farrell, a Towson native and Boys' Latin graduate. "What I'm thinking is, will this affect how the game goes? And that depends on each individual situation. If it's not really a break or we've played a lot of defense, that's one of the times you want to pull it out and make the smart play. You don't want to give it back to their offense, so you give it to your offense. But I really just try to make the best choice possible, and when you have great attackmen like we do, you can just give them the ball and let them do what they do best."

The Terps' defensive players have posted 14 goals and 12 assists thus far, but have misfired on nearly as many occasions. That's a trade-off that coach John Tillman seems willing to accept.

"We want to be mature with our decisions, but we also don't want to handcuff them," he said. "It's a very difficult thing for a coach because you know there are going to be some bad choices, and we realize that. But we also know that if we coach and educate the kids well, we should make a lot more good plays than bad plays, and we've got to live with some of those bad plays for all the good opportunities we would generate."

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