March 18, 2011

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: Denver Still Team to Beat in ECAC

by Gary Lambrecht |

Bill Tierney went light on practice after Denver's emotional home loss to Notre Dame on Saturday, which paid off Wednesday against Loyola. The Pioneers' road trip continues Saturday at Sacred Heart.

© Trevor Brown

Denver University men's lacrosse coach Bill Tierney did what he could to minimize what could have been an unusually tough road trip for the Pioneers. After dropping a 10-9 decision to third-ranked, visiting Notre Dame on Saturday before a record crowd of 2,547 at Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium, the No. 19 Pioneers had to travel east through two time zones to face No. 17 Loyola on Wednesday.

Denver (4-2) surprisingly looked as if it had fresher legs. Loyola looked jet-lagged. And after Denver did a masterful job of milking its effective faceoff game to score five, quick-strike goals and pull away to a 12-8 victory over the Greyhounds, the Pioneers again looked like the team to beat in the ECAC.

Tierney deserves credit for devising the right travel plan. Since Denver is on spring break, Tierney decided the team would fly to Baltimore on Sunday, lighten the intensity of practice early in the week, and stay off of its feet in general.

"The only thing that was bad about Saturday night was [Notre Dame] ended up with more goals than us. We gave an unbelievable effort, we had a big-time crowd, and the speed and intensity of the game were really high," Tierney said. "Honestly, I didn't know if we could come back with that kind of intensity [four nights later]. We had a post-game kind of hangover for a couple of days. Finally, at our shoot-around [earlier Wednesday], we kind of woke up and said, 'Oh, we've got a game tonight.'"

The Pioneers woke up, all right. They took an early, 4-1 lead, then withstood a 5-2 run by Loyola, which tied the score at 6-6 in the opening seconds of the second half. Then, the Pioneers reached back with some telling punches. Defenseman Jeff Brown switched assignments and quieted Loyola attackman Mike Sawyer, who was limited to just one goal in the second half after scoring three in the first. Midfielder Chase Carraro won seven of his last 10 draws over John Schiavone, and the Greyhounds unraveled on defense, in the face of Denver's 6-0 run.

The Pioneers' road trip continues Saturday at Sacred Heart.

Virginia defense passes test

The Achilles heel for second-ranked Virginia was supposed to be its defense, where the Cavaliers are uncomfortably young and inconsistent. At close defense are freshman Scott McWilliams and fourth-year juniors Matt Lovejoy and Chris Clements.

Virginia has passed the test so far, although the Cavs could use better positioning and be sharper in the help game. Still, through its 6-1 start, Virginia has held opponents to a solid, 8.3 goals per game on 24.4 percent shooting, and its man-down unit has been lights out, having killed an eye-catching 26 of 28 penalties.

With a dangerous Ohio State team coming to Charlottesville on Saturday, the Cavaliers hope to feed off of their 11-9 win over Cornell last week. Lovejoy especially had his hands full with Big Red attackman Rob Pannell (four goals). But Pannell did not record an assist, while taking 12 shots.

"You're better off with Pannell taking all of those shots. You're better off with him going four [goals] and zero [assists] than if he goes two and five, when he's making everybody else better," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who saluted the play of Clements, who made the switch from short-stick midfielder to close defense shortly before the season opener.

"I told [Clements] I needed to see him in my office. I asked him if he thought he was in trouble. Chris said 'I don't think so,'" Starsia said. "I told him I needed him to pick up a long pole. He went right to work."

Clements has played just about everywhere in a relatively short time. As a sophomore at St. Paul's School in Baltimore, he was on close defense. Then, he switched to offensive midfield and broke the scoring record for St. Paul's midfielders as a senior. Clements had been a short-stick middie at Virginia, until the latest change.

Loyola needs 'soul-searching,' Toomey says

No. 15 Loyola still has time to fix its problems. The ECAC will stage its first conference tournament in seven weeks to determine an automatic qualifier for the NCAA tournament.

But after dropping that 12-8 decision to ECAC opponent and postseason tournament host Denver, the Greyhounds (3-2) evidently have a lot to work on. First, someone other than attackman Mike Sawyer must emerge as a scoring threat. Sawyer has scored 18 of Loyola's 38 goals.

Defensively, the Greyhounds were a mess, both in transition and facing Denver's sets, against which the Greyhounds refused to slide. Poor positioning down low and a lack of help too often put senior Jake Hagelin in impossible save situations.

Loyola committed nine penalties, gave up five goals off of faceoffs, got beat on an empty-netter in the first half and went 27 minutes without a goal in the second half, when its offense repeatedly broke down without Sawyer able to rescue it. Once again, Loyola played from behind after giving up four of the game's first five goals.

"We have to do some soul-searching the next couple of days, figure out who we are," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "We have to be more disciplined. We need to be tougher -- on ground balls, coming off of picks. We're going to fix this thing."

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