May 28, 2010

Don’t Mock Me: Cornell’s Third Wheel Poses Threat

by Matt DaSilva | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff

Cornell freshman Steve Mock has thrived in the postseason as the third attackman next to Rob Pannell and Ryan Hurley.

© Greg Wall

BALTIMORE, Md. -- Steve Mock liked being “under the radar,” as he called it Thursday at media day for the NCAA Division I men’s lacrosse championships. For most of this season, Cornell was happy to oblige.

The Big Red had fits finding a third attackman to play alongside stars Rob Pannell and Ryan Hurley. Scott Austin was inconsistent. Ross Gillum could do more as a midfielder.

It came to a head after the regular season. Cornell head coach Jeff Tambroni kept Austin, Mock -- a little-known, 5-foot-9, 165-pound freshman -- and a battery of defensemen after practice.

A tryout in May.

“They were fighting it out. Coach was throwing fresh defensemen in there the whole time. It just kept going back and forth,” Hurley said. Mock won the spot, “and that was really the turning point for Steve.”

Mock exploded for four goals against Brown in the Ivy League men’s lacrosse tournament and two more in Cornell’s overtime loss to Princeton in the championship game. Gillum started both games, but Mock was the wild card, causing matchup problems as soon as Gillum bumped up to midfield.

Mock came off the bench for three goals in the Big Red’s thrilling, triple-overtime victory over Loyola in an NCAA tournament first-round game.

Then against Army in the NCAA quarterfinals, Tambroni gave Mock his first career, unconditional start. He responded with a hat trick, as Cornell advanced to its third final four in four years. The seventh-seeded Big Red play Notre Dame in the first semifinal Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Playing alongside Pannell (29g, 49a), one of the nation’s best at engineering an offense, and Hurley (45g), the 6-foot-3 scoring machine from Minnesota, can be rather intimidating. Mock admitted his greatest success comes in playing off them.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

“Everyone calls it the third attack spot. It’s definitely what it is, because we have two of the top attackmen around,” he said. “They draw so much pressure and attention, it takes any pressure off me. So yeah, they’re pretty much it.”

So is Notre Dame sleeping on Mock?

“If they’re watching film of that quarterfinal game, the way he played, I don’t think they would,” Hurley said.

Dan’s the man for Duke… for now

Duke’s revolving door between the pipes has landed back on freshman Dan Wigrizer, who will start Saturday’s second semifinal against Virginia -- the same team that scorched Wigrizer to start the goalie controversy in Durham.

Only it’s not a controversy, if you ask Blue Devils head coach John Danowski.

“It’s a team game,” Danowski said. “Some teams decide to play multiple quarterbacks.”

Mike Rock, a former walk-on with no game experience, supplanted Wigrizer in that ACC semifinal and played well. He started Duke’s regular season finale against Sacred Heart and in its NCAA tournament first-round blowout of Johns Hopkins.

After North Carolina got hot on Rock, Wigrizer returned and helped Duke defeat the Tar Heels, 17-9, in the NCAA quarterfinals.

“Danny didn’t play well against Virginia. But we didn’t know what Mike Rock could do, because he never got a shot,” Danowski said. “Now, we think at least Mike has seen enough…

“Defensively, it just kind of sends a message: it doesn’t matter who’s in goal. You’ve got to play right in front of him. Whether it is Mike or it is Danny, you’ve got to play right.”

That’s fine by Duke long pole C.J. Costabile.

“Dan’s really good. We have all the faith in the world in him, and we think he’s the best person for the job right now,” Costabile said. “Even if it was Rock, same thing. We believe in them and they believe in us.”

Rodgers: Hey, I’m a pretty good goalie, too

Ask any opposing coach to scout Scott Rodgers, and the first things you’ll hear about are his height and weight.

Yes, the Notre Dame goalkeeper is a big boy. But as the 6-foot-4, 254-pound behemoth has demonstrated during the Irish’s unlikely NCAA tournament run, he’s more than just mass.

“Everyone kind of knows my name around the country because of my size,” Rodgers said. “But at the same time, I want to be respected for things like my hand speed and the way I play goalie.”

Rodgers has gotten used to talking about his size.

“I’ve been getting my birth certificate checked since I was in eighth-grade, pee-wee travel lacrosse,” he said. “It’s nothing new to me.”

After an up-and-down season, Rodgers, a fifth-year senior, is peaking at the right time. He has engineered a Notre Dame defense that has held high-powered Princeton and Maryland to just five goals apiece. Like those teams, Cornell likes to run and gun.

“I want to have a good game,” he said. “A lot of people think I didn’t have a good season. It’s my senior year, and I want to turn it on.”

Speak softly…

Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Ken Clausen does not know if this is the year a long pole finally wins the award as the nation’s top collegiate player. The Virginia defenseman joins Syracuse long-stick midfielder Joel White as two of the five finalists.

But there’s never been a better time to carry a big stick.

The Cavaliers meet Duke, a team whose long poles are empowered to do more between the lines, in Saturday’s second semifinal.

“I’m really excited there’s some defensive recognition. Hopefully that can send some hope to defensive players of the future,” Clausen said. “I still think the people who score the goals are seen as the sexiest. But I think defensive players are getting more and more athletic.”

Costabile said certain systems benefit long poles.

“What’s great about Duke, it’s why I came here, you cross that midfield line, you’re considered an offensive player,” he said.

At UVA, leaders emerge

Clausen is paramount among the seniors who have helped guide Virginia through a period of crisis. Earlier this month, men’s lacrosse player George Huguely was charged with the murder of women’s lacrosse player Yeardley Love, which has brought a national spotlight on the sport and Charlottesville.

“There’s no doubt these last couple of weeks have been extremely difficult for our team, the women’s team and the university as a whole,” said Clausen, who has been one of the Cavaliers’ most vocal representatives. “I’ve been able to talk when I need to and speak my mind. I’ve been honest with what’s going on with our emotions. They’re real. It’s been tough, but the whole senior class has done a nice job of keeping our team together.”

Starsia misses media day

Virginia head coach Dom Starsia remained in Charlottesville on Thursday after his wife was hospitalized for undisclosed reasons. UVA media relations representative Vincent Briedis said the condition was not serious.

Starsia was expected to rejoin the team for its practice Friday at M&T Bank Stadium.

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