April 12, 2014

McAnaney: Big Matchups Across the Board in April

by Eamon McAnaney | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | McAnaney Archive

The road to the MAAC title is going to involve Detroit and Siena this year, with the two facing off this weekend. (Detroit Athletics)

Firmly in the final month of the regular season, just about every game has meaning, whether teams are jockeying for NCAA tournament seeding at the top of the table, or trying to make it into their league tournaments for a potential cinderella run. Here's some of the best that this weekend has to offer on the men's side.

Siena at Detroit

This has become one of the nastier matchups in mid-major lacrosse as the Saints will be looking for payback after the Titans grabbed the MAAC title last year 11-10 in overtime.

"It's only natural that when you keep knocking each other off and you end somebody's season earlier than they had hoped for that a rivalry develops," Detroit head coach Matt Holtz said.

The key for the Titans will be to draw fouls against a disciplined Siena team since Detroit's EMO unit is converting at 68 percent. "They have jelled better than six guys I have ever seen," Holtz said. "They know their roles and enjoy their roles. It's been fun to watch."

With Quinnipiac in the mix, this game doesn't determine the No. 1 seed for the conference tournament but extra juice isn't needed for this one. "The last time they played here it literally ended in a fight so I am not worried about having to pump my guys up," said Holtz.

Harvard at Penn

Harvard comes in riding the wave of its first win over Cornell since 1998, but the coaches know this is no time for the Crimson to exhale. "We met with the team on Sunday and obviously [Cornell was] a big win, but just like losses to North Carolina and Duke do not define our season, neither does one win against Cornell," said Harvard head coach Chris Wojcik. "The theme all week has been we have not accomplished anything yet."

For Harvard, the offense starts with Devin Dwyer and the sophomore is starting to become a breakthrough star — not just in the Ivy League, but nationally. This does not come as a surprise to his head coach. "When I was recruiting him he reminded me of a Tim Goldstein and a Kevin Lowe because he has the ability to make his teammates better," Wojcik said. "With all the emphasis on dodging now that makes him a throwback but coaching him is a pleasure because he sees the field as a coach."

Dwyer and mates though will have a hard time finding the back of the net against senior goalie Brian Feeney and a Quaker defense that has allowed just 13 goals in its last two games.

Cornell at Hofstra

I am curious to see the emotion level for the Big Red after suffering two straight losses to Harvard and Syracuse. It's tricky to guess how high "marquee" programs with Long Island players get up for a visit to Shuart Stadium. John Danowski often talks about 2002 when Duke came to Hempstead fresh off an ACC tournament championship and just wasn't ready to play; the Blue Devils were thumped by his Pride team 14 to 6. On the flip side, North Carolina went to the Empire State last year and put on a show, rolling to a nine-goal win. The Pride should expect Cornell's best effort because this is a team that now has to put the chip back on its shoulder.

Hofstra is not downplaying the significance of this game at all. "It's a playoff game for us," said Pride head coach Seth Tierney. "We are one of many teams that still have two lines in the water as far as making the playoffs with an at-large bid or our league's AQ. This is a huge one as far as keeping the second line in the water. This is not summer league."

One Hofstra player who will certainly be ready to go is Ithaca native Torin Varn, and the senior warmed up by dropping six goals and two assists on Marist Tuesday night. "He grew up watching Cornell," said Tierney. "The first lacrosse game he ever went to was a Cornell game, his high school's nickname was the Little Red, certainly there is a spot in his heart for Cornell so hopefully he brings it."

Maryland at Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins-Syracuse may be the rivalry that has defined the sport as far as championships go, but this is the key matchup for history and geography. "This is unique because of the importance of lacrosse at both schools and because of the presence of the sport in the state of Maryland," said Terps head coach John Tillman. "This is the one the alums are really passionate about."

There seems to be little debate that Johns Hopkins needs this one and a victory at Loyola to avoid missing the postseason for the second straight year. To be successful on offense, the Jays will walk a fine line between looking to run and then being patient. "We have to find different ways to score," said Dave Pietremala. "If you think you are going to grind it out against them 6-on-6 you are sadly mistaken. That being said, though they are so good in winning the possession battle that you just can't give the ball to them on a quick shot. Knowing when to look for early offense and when to settle it down will be critical."

Fairfield at Air Force

First place in the ECAC will be on the line in this matchup of teams that have a combined 12-game winning streak, and for the Stags the turnaround can be credited to some serious soul searching. "After we dropped two straight to Providence and Hofstra there was a players-only meeting and then a lengthy team meeting so we could circle the wagons and refocus," said Fairfield head coach Andy Copelan. "We all needed to realize that we still had a lot to play for."

The Stags have Top 20 wins over UMass and Yale on their resume but will need a strong defensive effort to slow down an experienced Falcon offense led by four-tim ECAC offensive player of the week Mike Crampton. "He is a complete stud," said Copelan. "He's a really good athlete with a good shot. They play with such good chemistry and he is at the finishing end of their patterns."

North Carolina at Syracuse

The significance of this one was diminished a little bit with the Orange taking care of business in Ithaca on Tuesday to all but seal the deal on an NCAA tournament bid. Still, though, this is a proud program and no one associated with Syracuse lacrosse wants to finish in last place in its first year in a new league.

This has the potential to be a lights out game. Both teams are efficient on offense in very different ways, and both have improved defensively. Earlier this year, Joe Breschi said he thinks the two most special places to play college lacrosse as a road team are Homewood Field and the Carrier Dome. The Tar Heels aced their first visit to Homewood since 2010 two weeks ago. How they handle the atmosphere of a Saturday night at the Dome could go a long way in determining the outcome of this one.

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