April 19, 2013

Amid Rough Patch, Maryland Looks to Regroup

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com

When the fourth-ranked Terps host Yale on Saturday, Jake Bernhardt and Maryland offfense will look to rebound from a season low goal output last week against John Hopkins.
© Lee Weissman

One could make a strong argument that No. 4 Maryland has the best team in Division I men's lacrosse.

The Terps (8-2) have spent most of the spring ranked in the top five in scoring offense and defense. They have arguably the most depth and balance overall and especially at midfield, with John Haus (14 goals, 9 assists), Mike Chanenchuk (15, 10) and Jake Bernhardt (14, 4) leading the way on a terrific first unit. They have been mostly steady and productive at attack, led by Kevin Cooper (17, 15).

Defensively, the Terps make it consistently tough to score against their six-on-six alignment, with goalie Niko Amato having his finest year and long-stick midfielder Jesse Bernhardt and short-stick midfielder Landon Carr constant threats along with Amato to ignite the Maryland fast break.

But like everybody else in 2013, the Terps have found a rough patch. With two losses in its last four games, Maryland has hit a wall of sorts on offense. The wall looked like Mount Everest in Saturday's 7-4 loss to Johns Hopkins, which played masterful defense in a must-win situation while holding the Terps to their season low in scoring.

The Terps are averaging a modest eight goals in their past four games, and have shot a pedestrian 22 percent during that stretch. That included a 4-for-36 thud against Hopkins. What's up with the offense? Coach John Tillman said it's a little bit of everything.

"I think it's tempo. I think our stick work has been a little bit sloppy. [So has] our spacing and continuity and shot selection," Tillman said. "Are we dodging from the right spots? Are we playing guys in the right positions? When you're winning, it's never as good as you think. When you're losing, you don't want to overhaul everything. The question is how much do we want to tweak?"

"We've kind of gotten away from playing Maryland lacrosse," Jesse Bernhardt said. "Throw the schemes out the window. It's about playing smarter, getting those key ground balls, making better decisions with the ball."

Maryland will be tested on Saturday, when 12th-ranked and defending Ivy League champion Yale (8-3) comes to Byrd Stadium riding a hot defense and a five-game winning streak.

Kemp Still Getting it Done

Notre Dame senior goalie John Kemp has been so good for most of his tenure in South Bend that it's easy to look at his save percentage (.523) and wonder what's wrong with him in 2013?

Fighting Irish coach Kevin Corrigan has a theory. Nothing is wrong with the first-team All-American trying to lead No. 3 Notre Dame (9-2) to its second consecutive final four and first NCAA title.

Corrigan pointed in part to the Irish transition defense that has exposed Kemp to more high-percentage shots by faltering at times — another sign of a season marked by the up-tempo, unsettled brand of lacrosse brought on by rule changes that are doing their job.

Corrigan also credited opponents with picking their shooting opportunities more judiciously. Through 11 games, Notre Dame had allowed just 28.7 shots per game. That's not just because of lights-out defense played by the Irish, which still forces plenty of opponents into scoring droughts.

"Teams don't waste shots on [Kemp]. They are very selective. They know a bad shot often turns into an easy save and a transition opportunity for us," Corrigan said. "That has made it hard sometimes to get into a good rhythm. Goalies usually need to see a lot of shots to find that rhythm."

In the end, Notre Dame's defense is doing just fine. The Irish have beaten five top 20 teams, gone 4-1 in one-goal games, and rank sixth in the nation in average goals allowed (7.82). And Kemp ranks sixth in Division I in goals-allowed average (7.65).

"We don't play to get John to 60 percent [in save percentage]," Corrigan said. "The thing we're concerned about and the thing John is concerned about most is winning."

Loy Back as Syracuse Seeks Rebound

No. 5 Syracuse continues its season of dramatic twists and turns. The latest, coming on the heels of a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over unranked Rutgers on Saturday, was Tuesday night's 13-12 defeat against unranked, upstate rival Hobart.

The Statesmen scored the game's last four goals in the final 7:17 of the 99th meeting between the two schools. It was Hobart's first victory over the Orange since 2006 and only the second win in the series since 1986. This marked the fifth, one-goal decision in the rivalry since 1997. Syracuse now holds a 71-26-2 edge in the series.

"We've had so many one-goal battles with [Hobart], it's almost a matter of odds," said Syracuse coach John Desko, whose team has authored a strange journey in 2013.

The 'Cuse (9-3) has beaten No. 7 Cornell, No. 10 Johns Hopkins and No. 12 Princeton and has lost to Villanova and Hobart, each of whom faced the Orange with losing records. Syracuse also needed to score seven, fourth-quarter goals to turn back Rutgers (2-11) by a 12-11 count.

The Orange has much going for it and much to clean up. Their offense, led by midfielders JoJo Marasco (team-high 28 assists) and 22-goal man Luke Cometti ("The best off-ball middie I've seen since [former Virginia great Matt] Poskay," said Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala), is potent and balanced.

But Syracuse has been bitten by up-and-down play on defense and special teams. It has scored only 12 extra-man goals while giving up 22 in man-down situations. Poor faceoff play cost the Orange dearly in its Villanova loss.

The good news is junior midfielder Scott Loy (12 goals) returns on Saturday at Georgetown after missing two games with a leg injury. That allows Henry Schoonmaker (14 goals) to go back to anchoring the second unit.

Wascavage Powering Towson Run

Where would unranked Towson University be without senior goalie Andrew Wascavage? The Tigers probably would have no chance to win the upcoming, Colonial Athletic Association tournament and reach the NCAA tournament as an automatic qualifier.

With all due respect to attackman Thomas DeNapoli (30g, 11a), who revived the Towson offense, the Tigers (7-6, 3-1 CAA) would not have a winning record and be in the CAA tournament without Wascavage, who has recorded at least 10 saves in every game and ranks fourth in the NCAA in save percentage (.618).

"His confidence and maturity have been on display all year," Towson coach Shawn Nadelen said. "He's the main reason we've won four or five games."

Towson began the year with a loss at High Point, which led to an 0-3 start. But the Tigers then won seven of their next nine — including four by one goal — as Wascavage became a rock in the cage.

One week after dropping a 10-8 decision to red-hot and league-leading Penn State, the Tigers face high-scoring, no. 17 Drexel on Saturday in a battle for second place in the CAA. But the fact that Towson already has clinched a spot in the four-team tournament is a huge accomplishment, given where the Tigers came from.

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