Blogs and Commentary

posted 05.21.2012 at 11.50 a.m. by Corey McLaughlin

Working Off The Weekend: Five Things to Know

Hindsight is 20/20, though my real-life vision is not. After watching all four Division I men's semifinals over the weekend, and sharing instant thoughts on our live blog, I sat down Sunday night to think about the four teams that will play this men's championship weekend: Loyola, Notre Dame, Duke and Maryland.

It all makes perfect sense now. Three of the top four seeds advanced, with the lone outlier being the unseeded Terps, who manhandled second-seeded Johns Hopkins, 11-5 on Saturday. Of course, it's not that simple. Not in this year of unpredictability.

1. Loyola

Should we have seen it coming this preseason? We had Loyola ranked No. 19. The offense was going to be productive, we knew that, but the Greyhounds had questions in goal and on faceoffs, where seniors needed to be replaced. After a fall-ball scrimmage against Siena back in October, Loyola assistant coach Matt Dwan casually said as much about those concerns. While watching parts of that scrimmage, visions of Loyola in the final four did not come to mind. But here the Greyhounds are.

In Saturday's 10-9 win over Denver, faceoffs and goaltending were two of the Greyhounds strengths along with that Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby-led offense, the man-up unit in particular. J.P. Dalton won the faceoff matchup with Denver's Chase Carraro, 17-5. Jack Runkel made 11 saves, including a one-on-one effort against Denver freshman Wes Berg in a key late-game situation. There's also something to be said for the chemistry of this team -- be it rallying around teammate Sean O'Sullivan, whose mother, Mandy, passed away from a battle with pancreatic cancer after the March 10 Duke game, or following the lead of coach Charley Toomey, a former two-time All-American goalie at Loyola who started in the 1990 championship game against Syracuse.

2. Notre Dame

If you follow Notre Dame defensive coordinator Gerry Byrne on Twitter, you know that he doesn't mind playing the disrespect card. A sampling of some early-season messages he typed out:

"All we do is griND. GBs, slides, possessions, rides, clears, plane rides, bus trips. No magazine covers, no fluff pieces. 800 miles from MD."

"All I ask is that we stay "HANGRY", half hungry, half angry. Angry at the slights real & perceived & hungry for the work still to be done."

In the late stages against Virginia on Sunday, the Irish played "hangry." It might be the perfect word to use to describe their effort after midfielder Ryan Foley was knocked out of the game with a high hit and left on a stretcher. Notre Dame went on a four-goal run and held on to win 12-10. Thankfully, the team said Sunday night that Foley was "doing fine" and flew back with the team to South Bend.

But the hit was a turning point. Said midfielder Steven Murphy: "We were pretty hot-headed. But we kind of re-focused and said let's beat them on the field and send them home. That will be more of a slap in the face than retaliating."

That's the definition of hangry. The Irish are in their second final four in three seasons, no disrespect.

3. Duke

Meanwhile, the Blue Devils are in the final four for the sixth straight year. But once again, midseason there were questions about if they would reach the potential preseason polls said they had? You know what? John Danowski wondered the same thing. As Lacrosse Magazine rolled into Durham for a combined web/print behind-the-scenes feature the week of Duke's coming out party against Virginia on April 13, the Blue Devils were coming off a one-goal win over Marist, and Danowski said he didn't really know the identity of the group. Its senior leaders were not the vocal type. The sophomore attack of Jordan Wolf, Josh Dionne and Christian Walsh was still finding the best way to produce offense. They had won seven in a row, but had played sloppy fourth quarters in many of the games.

Then Virginia happened.

Danowski's pregame speech in a tiny locker room in Charlottesville, Va., clearly spoke to the significance of the Cavaliers series -- he referenced alumni who would be watching who "know the importance of this game" -- and the Blue Devils went out and hammered Virginia, 13-5, beating the Cavs for the 12th time in 13 tries. At halftime leading 4-2, Danowski told the group, "It's time to become a team." They did.

CJ Costabile continued doing what he's always done, creating havoc in the middle of the field and possessions for Duke, and the defense shut down Virginia -- providing a blueprint others emulated to send the Cavaliers into a downward spiral the rest of the season. Meanwhile, Duke's attack looked unstoppable, goalie Dan Wigrizer settled down in a big game and Rob Rotanz continued to emerge in the midfield. (A left hand, even!) I think we know who this team is now. So do they. After they remembered it in the first quarter against Colgate, the Raiders had no shot.

4. Maryland

Certain teams build their reputations and legacies in the postseason, across all sports. Is Maryland going to be one of those programs under John Tillman? Through two seasons, it sure looks that way.

The Terps played loose and made the most of their opportunities Saturday against Johns Hopkins in an all-around dominant quarterfinal win. Did you see those moshpit-style sideline celebrations after each goal? Critics will point to another reputation perhaps being built, of holding the ball, but I don't think that's fair coming out of Saturday. Maryland did exactly what it needed to do to win the game, and the Blue Jays were content with sitting back until it was too late and the deficit was too big. At one point in the fourth quarter, with Hopkins desperately needing possession, Maryland faceoff man Curtis Holmes ran untouched down the middle of the field and no one pressed to him. And on the other end, Hopkins drew a stall warning down six goals. Meanwhile, Maryland looked and played like a team that made a deep NCAA run before.

Although 22 of the players form the 2011 team that reached the championship game are gone, there are still some key parts: Goalie Niko Amato, whose play early Saturday set the tone; Joe Cummings, the Terps' go-to guy in the clutch; Jesse Bernhardt, one of the best long sticks in the nation; Holmes, effective on faceoffs and now helped at times by freshman Charlie Raffa. Playoff experience is a heck of a thing.

5. What Now?

The fun continues. There are some intriguing semifinal matchups: Loyola's offense vs. Notre Dame's defense, and a rematch of Duke-Maryland for the third time this season. It's also the second straight year those teams will play in Saturday's second semifinal. We'll see three great long-stick midfielders -- Costabile, Bernhardt, Loyola's Scott Ratliff -- and then Notre Dame's defense and goalie John Kemp.

The championship possibilities?

Loyola-Duke. A rematch of the Greyhounds' 13-8 win over Duke on March 10. It boosted the Loyola's confidence, although Duke was a different team back then. "We just don't seem to have the offensive leaders right now," Danowski said after the game.

Loyola-Maryland. An in-state battle.

Notre Dame-Duke. It's a rematch of the 2010 title game, won by CJ Costabile. Yes, he's still around, Irish fans. But it's also a rematch of a Feb. 18 Notre Dame win. That's also part of a larger theme: In each of the last three seasons, the Irish have taken the February wins against Duke. The Blue Devils have won the last two May meetings.

Notre Dame-Maryland. The Terps' 7-5 loss to the Irish in the quarterfinals of the 2010 tournament was Dave Cottle's last game as Maryland coach. He recruited some of these current Terps.