February 9, 2012

MD1 Notebook: Bucknell Has Hit the Big Time

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

Bucknell has found it tougher to schedule top opponents as it has ascended the Division I landscape under coach Frank Fedorjaka.

Bucknell men's lacrosse coach Frank Fedorjaka is familiar with the drill. As the Bison have ascended in the Division I landscape in recent years, Fedorjaka said he has had to work the phones with increasing frustration, as he searches for top-level opponents to fill out his schedule and keep his team sharp.

Fedorjaka gets it. The Bison, ranked 16th by Lacrosse Magazine in the preseason after winning the Patriot League and nearly upsetting eventual national champion Virginia in the first round of last year's NCAA tournament, have become unattractive to the big boys residing outside the conference.

This year's schedule includes one opponent in the preseason top 10. That would be 10th-ranked Villanova. Bucknell was picked as the overwhelming choice to repeat as the kings of the Patriot League.

"In the past, if you lost to Bucknell, it killed your season. If you beat Bucknell, it was no big deal. That's what you were supposed to do," said Fedorjaka, entering his sixth season in Lewisburg, Pa.

"That's not the case anymore. We play 12 of the top 31 teams this year, but no one in the top 10," added Fedorjaka, who was barely wrong on that count. "We used to have Duke on our schedule. Then, we lost to them in overtime [in the 2010 season opener] and they've stopped playing us. We beat Maryland [in 2006], and they've stopped playing us. It's a little bit irritating to play against us."

The Bison tend to bother opponents with their aggressive style, which includes a 10-man ride. Under Fedorjaka, Bucknell has also become faster and more dangerous on offense. Witness last year's 13-12, overtime loss at Virginia, where the Cavaliers trailed for much of the second half before rallying to overtake the Bison.

"I called every team in the top 10 [in the offseason] just looking for a chance to go play them on the road," Fedorjaka said.

In other words, Bucknell has arrived.

Don't Go Changing ... Or Should We?

John Tillman, Maryland's second-year coach, caused some recent controversy when he told the Washington Times that, in the interest of maintaining a strong RPI and strength of schedule, he would actually consider knocking Navy off of the Terrapins' schedule in the near future.

Some might consider that committing an act of heresy, since Navy and Maryland have played 86 times in a series that dates to 1924 and has only been interrupted by World War II. Tillman, who made his name as an assistant at Navy before leaving to become head coach at Harvard in 2007, said he means no disrespect to the Midshipmen or the rivalry. He's also still smarting from last year's NCAA tournament selection.

The Terps were unseeded after finishing with a 10-4, regular-season record, and knocked off no. 8 seed North Carolina in Chapel Hill before advancing to the title game and losing to Virginia.

A loss to Colgate in the regular-season finale was damaging to Maryland's postseason position. And victories over Towson, UMBC, Georgetown and Navy hurt the numbers game on Selection Sunday, since all four programs were down significantly in 2011. Navy has missed the NCAAs for two straight years.

"For the purists and the historians, the [rivalry] games are important. We get it, and we are very sensitive to it," Tillman said. "I've been on both sides of the Maryland-Navy game. I've seen the meaning and importance of that game.

"We also have to be careful not to fall into the trap of 'we've always done things this way.' You have to look at projecting the impact of every game on your schedule. You have to maintain a focus on how the game is changing. You've got to stay up with the times."

Reilly to Cover Big Middies

Third-ranked Johns Hopkins took a major hit on defense last fall, when sophomore short-stick midfielder Phil Castronova tore his ACL in a flag football game. His season was over before it started. Senior Marshall Burkhart has replaced Castronova.

But there is another wrinkle in the defense that ranked sixth in Division I in 2011 by allowing just 7.25 goals per game. Sophomore Jack Reilly, who combined with Tucker Durkin and Chris Lightner on close defense last year, has moved up to the long-stick midfield position.

Reilly, 6-feet-3, 220 pounds and a tremendous athlete, essentially auditioned for the job in spots last spring – such as the night he was moved up to check former Virginia superstar midfielder Shamel Bratton, with excellent results.

"We need somebody to cover big, dynamic midfielders like [Virginia fifth-year senior] Colin Briggs and [Princeton sophomore] Tom Schreiber," Hopkins coach Dave Pietermala said. "Jack has got the quickness. He's been a really good team defender, and he's a space-eater between the boxes."

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