Maryland-Syracuse a matchup of super seniors

Terps' heralded class is still seeking its 1st NCAA title, while 'The Syracuse Seven' are looking to add their third

May 20, 2011|By Edward Lee, The Baltimore Sun

As in life, youth is a tantalizing commodity in college lacrosse.

From Nicky Galasso's record-setting campaign for North Carolina freshmen to Johns Hopkins' eight sophomore and freshman starters to Cornell junior attackman Rob Pannell's status as the leading candidate to win the Tewaaraton Award, youth has become a storyline in college lacrosse in 2011.

On the opposite end of that spectrum is Maryland and Syracuse, a pair of storied programs that will meet in an NCAA tournament quarterfinal at noon Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

While both sides feature young players in pivotal roles — Terps redshirt freshman goalie Niko Amato and Orange sophomore attackman JoJo Marasco immediately come to mind — these teams are built on their senior classes.

"When you're talking about college athletics, you win with seniors," CBS Sports Network analyst Steve Panarelli said. "I think it's hard to win a championship with freshmen and sophomores. Looking at both of those teams' senior classes, they've got a bunch of guys going to [Major League Lacrosse], a bunch of All-Americans, a bunch of guys that have been there and done that. … I think you win with seniors, with leadership, with guys who have been there and have experience, especially in the tournament. Both teams have that, especially the Syracuse guys winning two rings already."

Indeed, the Orange's class of seniors has dominated the headlines this season. Inside Lacrosse devoted the cover of its magazine last month to what the publication dubbed "The Syracuse Seven." The seniors have spoken frequently about adding another national title to the ones they claimed in 2008 and 2009, and seven Orange players were selected in the MLL draft, including four in the top 10 picks.

"Our group has been a solid group since they've been here," Syracuse coach John Desko said. "A lot of them have started in some role as freshmen, and in the last two years, we've lost one regular-season game in each of the last two years, and last year, we lost in the first round of the playoffs. In the previous two years, we've won national championships. So I know speaking in terms of our group, it's a very focused group as far as how they approach each game and what their goals are."

As documented as the Orange's desire for an NCAA crown has been, Maryland's seniors are perhaps even hungrier; the Terps have lost in the tournament quarterfinals in each of the past three years.

"If you look at our senior class, we've been fighting in the quarterfinals for the last four years now, and that's the determination because we've been working so hard for these four years," said fifth-year senior Brian Farrell, a long-stick midfielder. "To not get the reward, that just drives us the whole time."

The Terps' seniors were a more heralded group than Syracuse's class. In 2007, Inside Lacrosse tabbed Maryland's recruits as the second-best corps behind Virginia's group. The Orange's class was ranked fifth.

But the Terps haven't reached the promised land, frustrating the players.

"We came into the Maryland program pretty highly touted, and we haven't really lived up to that hype yet," senior defenseman Max Schmidt said. "I think we have a great opportunity in front of us. It's any team's game at this point of the year. It's May, and we're really excited to push forward and see where we can take this thing."

Standing in the road, however, is a Syracuse team that is 14-1 and the top seed in the NCAA tournament. The seedings would seem to suggest that the Terps (11-4) are the underdogs and could be playing in their final game of 2011. That possibility is not lost on senior attackman Grant Catalino.

"If we lose, we're done," he said. "I think we're an extremely tight senior class. So every day that we spend on the practice field or time outside of practice is quality time, it's the best time of our lives right now. Even though some of us are playing lacrosse after this, there's going to be nothing like Maryland lacrosse. So that's in the back of our minds. To play one more week and practice this week is awesome, and we hope to continue it for another week."

The sense of urgency is palpable, but Maryland coach John Tillman conceded that there is a delicate balance between playing with determination and playing with desperation.

"There are so many things beyond the strategy of the X's and O's and running the right plays," Tillman said. "A lot of it is that mental approach of, 'Listen, if we practice hard and we're really focused and there's a sense of urgency in everything that we do, it shouldn't change relative to our opponent of the time of the season.' That's a championship approach, and that's the one thing we've stressed since Day 1."

Five of the Terps' seniors are slated to continue their careers in the MLL, but that future is distant on the horizon.

"We don't ever want our season to end, because it's not just the seniors but this group as a whole that won't be together if we lose," senior attackman Ryan Young said. "So we've been getting after each other every day in practice so far this week. It's been really intense and we like where we are right now."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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