April 1, 2011

NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Notebook: Carolina-Hopkins Has No Shortage of Intrigue

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Led by sophomore goalie Pierce Bassett, the Johns Hopkins defense ranks second in Division I, allowing just 6.13 goals per game.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

On the surface, the season certainly took a critical turn for the Johns Hopkins men's lacrosse team when the Blue Jays repelled a comeback on Saturday by visiting, then-No. 2 Virginia.

When senior attackman Chris Boland scored late in the fourth quarter to lift Hopkins to a 12-11 victory at Homewood Field, it marked the first time in seven tries that the Blue Jays had beaten Virginia, and it was the first time the Blue Jays had taken down a top-five opponent since upsetting Duke in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament in 2008.

But Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said he felt the season turning throughout the previous week of practice, as the Blue Jays were putting behind them a heart-wrenching, 5-4 loss in double overtime to No. 1 Syracuse. In one of the most talked-about officiating calls of the spring, Hopkins senior attackman Kyle Wharton's apparent game-winning goal was waived off after he was ruled in the crease. Replays made a compelling case Wharton was pushed into the off-limits area at the Carrier Dome.

Pietramala refused to talk about the controversial call in his post-game comments, and his lips remain sealed about the matter. He also warned his players to follow his lead.

"The last thing we want to do is offer [the players] an excuse for why we lost that game," Pietramala said. "I told the players I didn't want to hear about [the call], and that if I saw it [being talked about] in print, we were going to have a problem.

"To me, the key to how we played against Virginia was how we handled that loss. We walked away from that loss really hurting for each other. I think it was a bonding experience for our group. The thinking here was 'OK, we've got to back to work quickly. We've got to go get this win.'"

By outlasting the Cavaliers, the Blue Jays (6-2) elevated to No. 5 in the latest USILA poll. Hopkins is now on a collision course with No. 4-ranked North Carolina (7-2) in Sunday's Konica Minolta Big City Classic, in the undercard matchup to the Duke-Syracuse game in the Meadowlands.

But Carolina-Hopkins has no shortage of intrigue, starting with the fact that the Tar Heels have beaten Hopkins four straight times.

Like Hopkins, Carolina is coming off a huge upset victory over a top-five school, an 11-6 spanking of then-No. 5 Maryland. Both teams rely heavily on talented underclassmen. Both teams are riding superb seasons by faceoff specialists – Hopkins senior Matt Dolente is second in the nation (.681); Carolina freshman R.G. Keenan ranks 10th (.631). And each team is backed by complementary strengths.

Hopkins is back to playing stifling defense. Led by sophomore goalie Pierce Bassett, the Blue Jays rank second in Division I, having allowed only 6.13 goals per game. The Tar Heels are packed with young offensive talent, starting with dynamic freshman attackman Nicky Galasso, and rank 15th in the nation by scoring 10.9 goals per game, while committing only 12.3 turnovers per contest (second-fewest in NCAA).

Both Hopkins and Carolina enjoyed potentially season-changing wins, less than an hour apart from each other on the same afternoon. On Sunday in New Jersey, someone's season is going to get even better.

Yale eyes first NCAA tournament berth since 1990

Yale has not been to the NCAA tournament since reaching the final four in 1990. With Princeton down this year, Matt Gibson and the Bulldogs are a legitimate contender in the Ivy League.

© Greg Wall

There is little argument that seventh-ranked Cornell remains the team to beat in the Ivy League. But the Ivy is shaping up to be its most competitive and compelling in years – notably in a year in which Princeton is parked in the cellar at the end of March.

"With Princeton 0-2 [and in last place], people are saying this might be the most wide open the league has been," said Andy Shay, Yale's eighth-year coach.

Yale, ranked No. 15 and one of four Ivy League schools currently ranked in the top 20 – No. 13 Penn and No. 20 Harvard are the others – could be poised to make a serious run at its first NCAA tournament berth since the Bulldogs made the final four in 1990.

The Bulldogs (5-1, 1-1), who recently dropped a 10-8 decision to Cornell and will play at Penn on Friday, appear to have the necessary ingredients. They are getting terrific play out of sophomore faceoff man Cole Yeager (.633) and senior goalie Johnathan Falcone (.614 save percentage, 6.19 GAA). Their offense is averaging a robust 13.3 goals on 40 shots per game, while eight different players have tallied at least five goals. Senior attackman Brian Douglass (3.67 points per game) and sophomore fourth attackman Deron Dempster (13 goals on an NCAA-best 72.2 percent shooting) have been outstanding.

Denver does it all

Looking for an early sleeper to project as a final four party crasher during Championship Weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore?

Keep an eye on the 12th-ranked Denver Pioneers, coached by former Princeton head coach Bill Tierney, who authored six NCAA titles there. The Pioneers (6-2) have lost to Syracuse and Notre Dame, the top two teams in the rankings, and they took the Irish to the wire in a 10-9 loss on March 12.

Denver is doing just about everything right these days, although the Pioneers need to tighten up their man-down defense. But Denver hustles (38.5 ground balls per game). It is shooting a strong 32.7 percent. Chase Carraro ranks 12th in the NCAA in faceoff win percentage (.621). And the Pioneers share the ball as well as anyone, better than most.

As the season swings into April, no team thus far has produced the potent, two-man game Denver has generated with attackman Alex Demopoulos and Mark Matthews. Each of them is averaging 4.25 points per contest.

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