Where are all the critics of Atlantic Coast Conference lacrosse now?
All season long they kept saying the ACC was over-rated and that the four teams in the league were only average. Some even suggested that the ACC wasn't a legitimate conference because there were only four teams.
But when the final four began Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium, three of the teams were Maryland, Duke and Virginia. The last time we checked, those schools were affiliated with the ACC.
And heading into the championship game here Monday, it's Virginia against Maryland. Oops. Another ACC showdown.
"There are some individual teams that have as much success, but from top to bottom, week in and week out, we believe the ACC is the best league," said Maryland senior defender Brett Schmidt earlier this season.
Some took the ACC lightly this season because there wasn't a super team, no Syracuse of the late 1980s or Princeton of the 1990s.That certainly proved to be true, but the same could be said about all of lacrosse. But if the ACC isn't the best league, name one that is better.
The Big East? That conference has Syracuse and Notre Dame, but that's about it. Both got knocked out of the postseason by ACC teams.
The Ivy League has Cornell, but Penn and Harvard would get chewed up in the ACC. Maryland coach John Tillman agreed.
"I would say the ACC is definitely more intense because everything happens so much faster," said Tillman, a former head coach at Harvard. "In the Ivy League, every player is recruited by the same schools. They know you and you know them. They scheme because they have really smart kids and they take away a lot of your strengths. You're always trying to adjust and everyone is well prepared.
"Here, so many plays are spontaneous plays. When the ball is on the ground, you never know what is going to happen because the players and the game are so much faster."
It's laughable to compare the other conferences such as the Colonial, American East or the Patriot to the ACC because that's like comparing the major to the minor leagues. Basically, there are eight teams that can win the national championship in Division I lacrosse right now, and four of those are from the ACC (the others are Johns Hopkins, Syracuse, Cornell and Notre Dame).
Everybody else is playing for fun.
And the ACC will continue to be the dominant conference because it has everything.
If you want good, warm weather from the south instead of the snow and ice of the north, then the ACC is a great place, with North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. If you prefer an Ivy League-type flavor, then Duke and Virginia are good choices.
All four schools have won national championships and consistently play in the 16-team Division I tournament. Duke, Carolina and Virginia usually play run and gun, and Maryland offers that physical, tough, blue collar style.
"Maryland was too big, too strong, too physical for us today," said Duke coach John Danowski after Maryland beat the Blue Devils, 9-4, Saturday night.
There aren't many groups of coaches as good as Virginia's Dom Starsia, Danowski, North Carolina's Joe Breschi and Tillman, and as part of the recruiting package, the ACC offers great basketball and competitive football during the offseason.
The ACC is the ideal conference in lacrosse because it makes its players feeI like they are a part of big time athletics. They're simply bigger, stronger and faster than players in other leagues.
Virginia and Maryland are both examples of how deep and talented teams are in the ACC. Starsia suspended his two best midfielders in the Bratton twins at the end of the regular season, and the team was without junior midfielder Colin Briggs Saturday, and Virginia still pummeled Denver, 14-8.
Most people thought that if Maryland managed to beat North Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs, the Terps wouldn't have enough left to get by Syracuse in the quarterfinals.
Surprise: Maryland 6, Syracuse 5.
The Terps have 17 seniors on the roster, but couldn't have gotten to the title game without young players such as attackman Owen Blye, midfielders John Haus, Kevin Cooper, goalie Niko Amato and long stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt.
Maryland whipped up on Virginia earlier this season, 12-7, in a game the Terps dominated. But that won't matter much in the championship. Starsia has had a great season turning around Virginia.
Danowski may have had his best season ever coaching a Duke team which had lost a lot of offensive talent the year before. Tillman has the Terps in the championship game in his first season, and they seem to be peaking at the right time.
If the ACC isn't the best league, please name a better one.