There has been talk about parity in college lacrosse for years, but finally there is evidence in the NCAA Division I tournament, a place where some thought it might not be on display for another decade.
As the tournament moves into the quarterfinal round there will be no representative from the state of Maryland for the first time. UMBC, Johns Hopkins and Mount St. Mary's didn't make the initial 16 team-field and Maryland, Loyola and Towson each got bumped over the weekend in the first round.
There are still some traditional favorites remaining like Syracuse, Cornell and Duke, but when Ohio State becomes one of the top contenders and teams like Bryant and Detroit can compete with The Orange and Notre Dame, parity has arrived.
It has hit hard in Maryland.
Gone are the days when Maryland and Hopkins can overstock their rosters with talent, and the smaller in-state schools like UMBC, Towson and Loyola could ride their coat tails.
Just glance at the roster of Maryland schools, there isn't one team with an offensive superstar or an abundance of depth.
“Maryland, from a scholastic standpoint, is still one of the top two or three states in the entire country,” said ESPN analyst Paul Carcaterra. “Those kids will typically stay home in many cases and play for top programs. But the difference between the top programs and the 10 through 20 programs in the nation is now the smallest margin it’s ever been. I think you just see a lot of the other teams drawing kids from all over the country competing and making their presence felt deeper into the tournament.”
“I think Maryland will always remain one of the top states in all of lacrosse, but I think from a collegiate standpoint, the game is growing, we’re seeing increased participation at the Division I level,” he added. “So those teams are just going to continue to make a dent and make their presence felt. There are so many teams that have tested these powers and have beaten them throughout the course of the season and beaten them in many cases.”
One of the Terps top weaknesses was exposed Sunday in Maryland's 16-8 loss to Cornell. The Big Red was led by All-American attackman Rob Pannell who tortured the Terps for four goals and three assists. Pannell ran the Big Red's offense perfectly from behind goal, and the Terps had no answer for stopping him.
Who does Maryland have in that class, an attackman that can blow by defenders or can run the offense efficiently?
Maryland was great at the beginning of the year when the Terps ran off six straight victories and opposing teams didn't have a clue how to stop them. But near the middle of the season, the opposition started long-poling Maryland's midfielders and shutting down attackman Jay Carlson on the crease. Maryland struggled for the remainder of the season.
Hopkins had the same problem. Except for sophomore attackman Wells Stanwick, the Blue Jays offense was stagnant, and Stanwick can't carry a team like his older brother Steele, the former All-American at Virginia.
A year ago, Loyola won the national championship because they had sharp-shooting attackman Eric Lusby. But once he graduated, the Greyhounds didn't have a go to player. Some critics will unfairly point fingers at Loyola coach Charley Toomey for calling a timeout that wiped out what would have been the go-ahead goal with less than a minute left in regulation against Duke on Sunday, but that's ridiculous.
There is bigger picture issue here in Maryland.
There was a time when the Terps and Blue Jays were drawing big name players every year like a Paul Rabil and a Kyle Harrison, but there are now 63 Division I schools playing lacrosse and giving out scholarship money.
The big name schools will still sign their share of blue chippers because of early recruiting, but they are also missing out on late developing players. In years past, kids wanted to go to big name schools like Hopkins or Maryland, even if it meant sitting on the bench.
But now, they can play immediately at a Colgate, Lehigh or High Point. Even Division I schools like Towson and UMBC have dropped down a notch because the talent is more spread out.
There is more balance but less depth. Maryland survived on the strength of short stick midfielders Jake Bernhardt, Mike Chanenchuk, John Haus and long pole middie Jesse Bernhardt, but there wasn't much left if one of those players got hurt or had an off day.
Duke got behind to Loyola in the first half, and then the Blue Devils pressured them all over the field in the second. The Greyhounds can run with most teams, but star middies Josh Hawkins and Scott Ratliff had tired legs Sunday. For small schools like Loyola, it's hard to secure the depth of bigger schools which can draw recruits with their large stadiums and big time football programs.
That's why it was great to see second-year Towson coach Shawn Nadelen turn around his program and get the Tigers into the tournament, but they weren't going to beat Ohio State. This game was too fast, too soon, for a program like Towson which is just starting to grow again.
As for Hopkins, the Blue Jays still have the name and a gorgeous lacrosse only field house that will help lure a lot of blue chip players. It's been fun watching the evolution of Dave Pietramala as the Blue Jays long time head coach. He has softened his approach in recent years, and might have to take it to another level to get better players.
Times have changed.
The elite group — Hopkins, Maryland, Syracuse and Virginia — that some always thought might be present in the Final Four are no longer guaranteed spots.
Parity is definitely in in 2013 while all the Maryland schools are definitely out.