December 4, 2012

Best of Lacrosse 2012: Censer's Take on the Rest

by Joel Censer | | TwitterCenser Archive

Syracuse's Michelle Tumolo was critical of Northwestern after the 'Cats used stall-tactics to beat the Orange for the national title.
© Greg Wall

There's the best — which Lacrosse Magazine has chronicled in-depth here — and there's the best of the rest. Here's a look at some special award-winners from 2012, along with opinions on some of LM's more traditional categories.

Check back to this month for more Best of Lacrosse 2012.

Best Tweets


Gerry Byrne is known as the brains behind Notre Dame’s stingy, disciplined, slide-quick-recover-quicker defense. But on the interwebs, the Irish’s defensive coordinator has become something else: irreverent, humorous and, in the confines of the lacrosse blogosphere, something of a Twitter celebrity. Whether warning recruits not to wear leggings at a fall tournament, quoting Notorious B.I.G., or playing up the fact that South Bend is located outside the Tobacco Road/ESPNU hoopla, Byrne breathes some life into his machine-like Notre Dame defense.

Most Candid 

Michelle Tumolo’s podcast chirps

The Syracuse and U.S. women’s national team star attacker is a fearless goal-scorer and ruthless competitor who wears her emotions on her sleeve. (See: 2012 national championship red card). After losing in the title game to Northwestern, which stalled and face-guarded her, Tumolo talked to the website Orangefizz in the podcast heard ‘round Evanston.

"We weren’t really expecting a national championship team — that had been in the national championship for eight straight years — would be stalling on a team they had already beaten. You know, it was just mind-boggling to us because, I’m not going to lie, they kind of seemed scared to play us. Because they saw what we did against Florida,” Tumolo said on the podcast. “I actually said to the girl covering me, 'This is so boring. I cannot believe this. This is why no one wants to watch the game. This is so bad.'

“It wasn’t what we expected. Every single call went toward Northwestern. I mean blatant fouls not called for us. I had a good check at the end of the game. It would have maybe led to a fast break and then a goal and it would have been a one-goal game. It just makes me angry.”

Best YouTube Moments/Individual Highlights

Mark Matthews

Mikey Powell’s career was immortalized with a stop-and-go YouTube medley. Ditto for Kyle Harrison and Paul Rabil, who both have split-dodging montages on the web.

In May 2012, slick-sticked Denver attackman Mark Matthews had four years of highlights spliced for his own boxla-inspired mixtape. Expect every 12-year-old with a working internet cable to start practicing toe-drags, leaners, head-fakes, one-handed shovel shots, and generally being more Canadian.

Christian Marshall

I’ve seen enough Perry Jones III, Anquille Carr-like high school hoop mixtapes to know a 15-year-old dodging through an entire team doesn’t necessarily equate to a dominant career. But it was hard not to get wrapped up in U-13 West Coast Starz member Christian Marshall’s open-field, summer-circuit brilliance. In just 10 seconds, Marshal swam past one guy, split a couple more, and after finding himself in the teeth of the defense, put the stick behind his back and cashed in at the doorstep.

Of course, Marshall’s end-to-end heroics probably gave an aneurysm to any coach who ever espoused making the simple play or using your off-hand.

Best Quotes

Dom Starsia

The erudite Brown graduate is recognized around lacrosse media circles as a walking-talking soundbite. In Lacrosse Magazine's Five Big Things Every Lacrosse Parent Should Know, Starsia reminded everyone college lacrosse is, in fact, a non-revenue sport. Starsia said: “If you take our Tewaaraton Award winners — Matt Ward, Chris Rotelli and Steele Stanwick — and added them all together, it might equal a little more than one full scholarship."

Steve Beville

After watching Salisbury senior midfielder Sam Bradman pump in six goals, throw in an assist, and run roughshod over his Cortland team at the Division III national championship, the typically blunt Red Dragons skipper asked Lacrosse Magazine's Jac Coyne if he could skip the pleasantries: "The biggest difference was Sam Bradman," Beville said. "Sam Bradman. Can I just say two words?" 

Best Gear/Fashion Statement

Maryland and Johns Hopkins clashed on the field and with fashion statements in 2012.
© John Strohsacker/

Maryland-Johns Hopkins

Forget Charles Village. The 2012 Maryland-Johns Hopkins regular season bloodspat on Apirl 14 might as well have been played in Milan.

The Blue Jays channeled Del Dressel and John Tucker, donning throwback jerseys and Bacharach-transforming helmet wraps that would make Bob Scott blush. The outfit change was an aesthetic reminder about the program's legacy and its position as a historical benchmark in our sport.

The Terps, meanwhile, draped themselves in jerseys covered with Maryland state flag insignia. They, too, were a reminder: Just 45 minutes down I-95, there's another heavyweight program with in-state tuition, public funds and an Under Armour sponsorship.

The Terps ended up grinding the retro-fitted Blue Jays in a 9-6 slugfest.

Best Upset

Iroquois U19 over USA

This one isn’t even close. During pool play of the 2012 U-19 World Championships in Turku, Finland, the Iroquois Nationals beat the Americans in international field competition for the first time in history in a 15-13 shootout.

Compared to the U.S., the Nationals draw from a miniscule player pool. Iroquois coach Brett Bucktooth estimated that there were maybe 265 eligible kids in all the Six Nations.

But led by Randy Staats’ five goals and Warren Hill’s steadying hand in goal, the game’s creators took advantage of their slick indoor sticks, along with a disciplined approach between the stripes and at the defensive end to take down Goliath.

Best Rivalry

Northwestern v. Florida

It wasn’t long ago that Northwestern was the rebellious Midwest upstart toppling traditional powers.

In 2007, Mandee O’Leary was hired to start the program at Florida and, by Year Two, the Gators made the NCAA playoffs and were chomping at everyone’s heels.

Despite being separated by 900 miles, both teams appear destined to duke it out for conference and national supremacy. Even though Florida handed the Wildcats their only two losses in 2012, including one in the ALC championship, Northwestern got the last laugh when they took home the real postseason hardware in May.

Best Fans

Kitty’s corner

Welcome to the Swamp.

The four students who comprised “Kitty’s Corner” — aptly named after Florida’ high-scoring All-American attacker Kitty Cullen — decked themselves out in orange and blue war paint and caused chaos in the stands in Gainesville.

Best Play-by-Play

Joe Beninati and Jack Emmer

Booker Corrigan, whose various quips and catchphrases would have made SportsCenter trailblazers Dan Patrick and Keith Olbermann proud, had his "Race to Nifty" highlight tape go viral.

But it was hard to top play-by-play veteran Joe Beninati and color commentator Jack Emmer, who after the power went out in Amherst, called the Colgate-UMass  NCAA tournament first-round game over by phone for nearly two quarters.

Thankfully, the duo was speaking through microphones by the time Peter Baum ran topside to seal the 13-11 win and send the Raiders to the quarterfinals.

Best Story You Never Heard/Read

England Changes its Youth Soccer Development Model

England, which has a long history of playing youth soccer on large fields, scrapped their “kick-and-run” model in May in favor of small-sided five-on-five games that take place on smaller pitches, using smaller goals and focusing mostly on developing skills.

This trend has been pervasive in many countries for many years (ever see this Ronaldinho clip?). Today, everyone from FC Barcelona's La Masia school, which produced Lionel Messi, to the U.S. Youth Soccer Organization promotes the small-sided philosophy.

Do I think in a decade, when half the attackmen in Division I are from Canada’s Hill Academy, that youth lacrosse teams will be playing small-sided games or starting in — gasp! — an indoor box? Well, history does have a way of repeating itself.

Biggest Breakthrough 

Eric Lusby, Loyola Sr. attackman

Left off the Tewaaraton finalist list, the southpaw spent his final four games eviscerating stingy defenses with a combination of hitches, crafty face dodges and bombs from the outside.  Anytime you go from secondary option on your own attack line to setting an NCAA goal-scoring record and becoming a household name in Baltimore? Well, that’s a breakthrough.

Runner up: Matt Gibson Yale Sr. Attackman

A savvy left-handed quarterback who could call his own number, Gibson was the main catalyst in transforming Yale from Ivy League bottom-feeder to conference champions and a team no one wanted to play come May.

After being a drafted by Chesapeake, Gibson was traded to Long Island led the on-the-rise Lizards to a playoff berth while nabbing rookie of the year honors in the process, scoring 33 points.

Boldest Move

Hofstra hires Shannon Smith

In June, phenom Shannon Smith was celebrating her third title at Northwestern in four years. Only a few months later, the 22-year-old Long Island native was starting a new project: head coach at Hofstra.

Age really is just a number.

Worst luck

Denver Outlaws

MLL MVP Brendan Mundorf injured his ankle in practice the Friday before Championship Weekend, and Denver failed to win the Steinfeld Trophy in its sevent straight playoff appearance.
© Bryce Vickmark

Major League Lacrosse’s Denver Outlaws have made the postseason during all seven years of their existence, yet the Mountain West franchise has never hoisted the Steinfeld Trophy.

It looked like 2012, however, could be the year of the Outlaw. Former Rutgers headman Jim Stagnitta took over the coaching reins, and by mid-summer quarterback Brendan Mundorf was playing muse for a couple of slick Canuck finishers.

But Mundorf, arguably the best attackman in the world, hurt his ankle at the Friday practice before Championship Weekend. While Denver took down Long Island in a come-from-behind thriller in the semis, the Outlaws eventually ran out of gas, falling to the Bayhawks 16-6 in the title game.

Unsung Hero

Jon Hind

After three years of ho-hum Division I national title games and half the lacrosse community taking to message boards to complain about pace of play, the NCAA rules committee acted.

Led by Hind, the athletic director at Division III Hamilton College, the committee did everything from having referees start a 30-second shot clock after stall warnings to outlawing the U- and V-stringing patterns to encourage more passing.

While different rules drew different reactions — the motorcycle grip was banned, then eventually reinstated after seemingly every college moto-using face-off man scoured the internet to find Hind’s contact info — the early fall returns look positive.

Best Game

Denver v. North Carolina

If I told people five years ago that quick-slide architect Bill Tierney would be heavily involved in a 16-14 playoff game where defense was an afterthought, people would have called me crazy.

But there we were, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, as North Carolina and Denver went goal-for-goal for the better part of four quarters. The Pioneers, behind Jeremy Noble’s 10 points and Chase Carraro’s dominance at the dot, eventually pulled away to win 16-14.

Aside from the offensive fireworks, the game was chippy in the way playoff lacrosse should be. None of the hand-slapping chumminess you get when half the guys played on some Empire State or Baltimore Crabs summer team together. This was MIAA, Philly, Long Island, I-95 corridor studs meet Canadian-infused roadshow. Refs threw laundry. Blood was spilled. The game may have looked like a track meet masquerading as lacrosse. But it also felt like the postseason.

Best Pop Culture Moment

Crooked Arrows

Mainstream media has made something of a cottage industry of typecasting lacrosse. Instead of pointing to the exotic stick-and-ball game as the fastest growing sport or a coast-to-coast phenomenon, more writers take the easy route, playing up the prep school image or thinking they are the first one to wax eloquent about pinnies, guys named Tucker and Jeep Wranglers. Frankly, the various scandals and the marketers who run ad campaigns appealing to the lowest denominator have made their jobs pretty easy.

But "Crooked Arrows," a Hollywood production about a coach finding his Native identity and leading an unlikely crew to the New York state championship, was a reminder that lacrosse has roots far beyond Stifler and Oz circa 1999.

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