April 12, 2014

NCAA Notes: Harvard's Ivy Statement

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | Lambrecht Archive

The Harvard Crimson have much work left to do before they actually live the dream of winning an Ivy League championship. But no. 16 Harvard has taken a huge step toward that goal.

With Saturday's 14-9 victory over previously-unbeaten Cornell in Ithaca, Harvard (7-4, 3-0 Ivy) sent a message to a league that looks as fiercely competitive as ever.

Before notching its first win over Cornell since 1998 – a victory that landed the Crimson in first place in the conference – Harvard had lost four road games against UMass, Albany, North Carolina and Duke by a combined 19 goals. The Crimson appears to be growing up quickly.

"Anyone really can beat anyone in this league, but Cornell has been the standard in the Ivy for the last decade," said Chris Wojcik, Harvard's fourth-year coach, who replaced John Tillman after he took the Maryland job in 2010.

"We took our lumps early a little bit with a young attack," he added. "I'm not afraid to take a loss or two [with tough, nonconference scheduling]. Our focus is to prove we can be the best team in the Ivy. This is a big win, but it doesn't define our season, just like a loss to Duke or Carolina doesn't define our season."

The Crimson, one of five Ivy schools ranked in the top 20, have a nice blend of young and old. The seniors include midfielder and co-captain Peter Schwartz (17 goals, 16 assists), SSM Brian O'Toole (11 caused turnovers) and faceoff specialist Gabriel Mendola, who led Harvard to a 20-for-27 day at Cornell. The juniors include LSM Brian Fischer (19 ground balls) and goalie Jake Gambitsky, who is averaging 10 saves per game.

But it's the sophomore class, led by attackmen Will Walker, Devin Dwyer, Ian Audrey and Deke Burns, that could push the Crimson to make some history as early as 2014.

"It's a very talented group," Schwartz said. "Dwyer plays beyond his years."

Dwyer is the unit's quarterback, with a team-high 21 assists to go with eight goals. Walker, who burned Cornell for four goals, is the best finisher with a team-high 29. Audrey, Burns and senior Carl Zimmerman have formed a tag team of sorts by combining for 29 goals and 15 assists.

New Jays Offense For Real

As no. 10 Johns Hopkins prepares for its huge, 111th meeting with fourth-ranked Maryland (9-1) at Homewood Field on Saturday, the Blue Jays' offensive identity has been fully transformed.

It used to be all about the big, dodging midfielders initiating offense. Those days have been gone since last fall, when Blue Jays offensive coordinator Bobby Benson installed a screening, motion offense heavily reliant on the attack as carriers and finishers.

Ryan Brown, Brandon Benn and Wells Stanwick, who have combined to score 63 of the Blue Jays' 111 goals and have collected 45 of the team's 73 assists, are the lightning rods for the offense.

"Our brightest players and most skilled players are on attack," Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said. "We're not surprised they are dominating the scoring column."

Brown (30, 11) is equally gifted with both hands and might be the most fundamentally sound shooter in the game. Benn (22 goals) catches and shoots as quickly and efficiently as anyone. Stanwick (11, 29) is the perfect feeder in the scheme.

If Hopkins takes a major step toward securing an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament with a win against a very balanced Maryland team, it's hard not to envision the attack playing a major role. It's hard not to envision this contest coming down to Terps senior goalie Niko Amato facing Brown or Benn in some key, fourth-quarter moments.

Denver's Outstanding EMO

Memo to any opponents of fifth-ranked Denver: Don't do the Pioneers (9-2) any favors by fouling them.

Villanova (4-6) learned that lesson the hard way a week ago, when the Wildcats did nearly everything possible to spring an upset against the visiting Pioneers. But seven Nova penalties gave Denver an opening, and the Pioneers used those gifts by cashing in with four, first-half goals that proved to be the key to their victory.

With a balanced and explosive offense carried by Jack Bobzien (25, 15), Wes Berg (25, 11), Erik Adamson (23, 5) and freshman phenom Zach Miller (23, 10, 57 percent shooting), Denver doesn't need much extra help. The Pioneers, who under coach Bill Tierney consistently have been one of the sharper shooting teams in the country, are shooting 39 percent and scoring on 39.5 percent of their extra-man opportunities.

Loyola Dominant in New Patriot Home

Top-ranked Loyola (10-1) has had close calls on the road against Colgate and Navy and had to grind out a 7-6 win at home against Army. But the Greyhounds clearly are the class of the Patriot League so far. And with a victory over visiting Boston on Saturday, Loyola will clinch the top seed in the upcoming PL tournament.

That means the Greyhounds should be settling in for a month-long homestand at Ridley Athletic Complex, where they are unbeaten and mostly dominant in 2014. The Greyhounds host Bucknell on Thursday, followed by the PL tournament, before closing out the regular season against Johns Hopkins on May 3 and presumably hosting a first-round NCAA tournament contest.

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