April 1, 2011

Ten to Watch: Pity the April Fools

by LaxMagazine.com

Last Week
5-5 6-4 4-6 4-6 6-4 6-4 3-7
Overall 54-16 51-19
48-22 48-22 46-24 40-30


Each Friday, your crack laxperts here at Lacrosse Magazine Online will try to handicap the upcoming weekend for the top 10 college games across all divisions.

The race is tightening -- in the middle, at least -- after many of us had a rough go of it last week. The Rookie still holds a comfortable three-game lead over Gandhi for first place. On the opposite end, NESCAC Jac has safely secured the cellar. In between are four pundits separated by just two games.

This week's pick 'em has full Division I flavor, including two top-five men's games at the Big City Classic and a couple of ALC women's showdowns.

Follow the weekend's action here at laxmagazine.com.

MD1: No. 15 Yale (5-1) at No. 13 Penn (4-3) - Friday 4 p.m.

After opening the season 3-0, including a big win over Duke, Penn looked ready to break out. Now the Quakers have dropped three of four to fall to 4-3, but they're pretty fortunate to be where they are. The numbers aren't pretty – an offense scoring just 8.0 goals per game, a winning percentage of only 46.2 on faceoffs and a save percentage below 50. Yale looks much prettier – 5-1 record, 13.3 goals per game, 65.7 faceoff percentage and 59.6 save percentage. But don't let the numbers fool you. Penn is battle-tested having played Duke, North Carolina and Villanova out of the league. Yale's toughest nonconference opponent was Lehigh. None of that matters now. Both are 1-1 in the Ivy and the loser will have an ugly second loss in one of the most competitive Ivy seasons in years. Making it to the four-team Ivy tournament will not be easy.

WD1: No. 8 Penn (7-1) at No. 1 Maryland (11-0) - Friday 7 p.m.

In a rematch of last year's NCAA quarterfinal, the Terps will host the Quakers in a throwdown between the nation's No. 1 offense (16.80 gpg) and No. 3 defense (6.25 gpg). Maryland (11-0) is undefeated thus far this season, but it had its closest call versus Syracuse, a 7-5 win in which the Orange played the type of slow-down game that Penn has been using for years now. Penn (7-1) will need to pick up its offense (8.75) to keep pace with the Terps, though. Maryland won the last meeting between these teams, 15-10.

WD1: Cal (8-4) at No. 9 Stanford (9-1) - Friday 7 p.m. Pacific

Stanford has had the better of its Bay Area rival for the last five games in this series, most recently knocking Cal out of the 2010 MPSF tournament with a 9-7 win. The Cardinal is 9-1, rebounding from an unexpected loss to Vanderbilt with a win over Brown. The Bears are on a three-game win streak, keyed by MPSF player of the week, junior attacker and co-captain Tara Arolla, who has seven goals and three assists in the last three games.

Stanford senior Leslie Foard is having something of a breakout year. The midfielder was a solid contributor for the Cardinal as a junior, leading the team in draw controls, but this year she's jumping to the top of the scoring stats as well. The Ohio native had 33g and 12a throughout all of the 2010 season; this year she has 24g and 9a through just nine games. Foard was held to 1g, 1a in the Cardinal's surprising loss to Vanderbilt, so the Bears would be well-advised to watch Foard closely.

MD1: No. 10 Maryland (6-2) at No. 6 Virginia (7-2) - Saturday 12 p.m. (ESPNU)

It's been 18 years since the last time these teams entered their regular season meeting with at least two losses each. Both squads are hoping to rebound after last weekend's losses. The Terps (0-2 in ACC) looked befuddled in their 11-6 home loss to Carolina, and it's likely that they spent much of this past week working on their offense against zone defense. UVA, playing the first of three straight ACC games, has won five straight against the Terps and nine of 10 dating back to 2006. The Cavs have moved this game from their normal home site, Klockner Stadium, to the bigger Scott Stadium as a prelude to the football team's Orange-Blue spring game.

WD1: No. 6 Florida (10-1) at No. 16 Penn State (6-4) - Saturday 1 p.m.

Buzzsaws. Florida enters this ALC showdown winning 10 straight. Penn State has won five straight, digging itself out of a 1-4 start with its longest winning streak since 1999. This will be the Gators' first departure from the comfy confines of Gainesville since Feb. 16, following an unbelievable nine-game homestand. It will also be their first venture north. (Their only two road games were at North Carolina and Jacksonville.) The game will be at Bigler Field, with the forecast calling for temperatures in the 30s and 40s with a mix of snow and rain.

The Gators continue to impress. Given UF's commitment to athletic success, few doubted that the new lacrosse program would become a presence on the national level. Unlikely, however, that many could have realistically envisioned a 10-game winning streak and No. 6 national ranking in year two. "They are maturing quickly and they are ready to compete at the highest level," Florida coach Mandee O'Leary said. It's getting harder and harder to be a doubter with each passing game.

MD1: No. 8 Villanova (7-2) at No. 2 Notre Dame (6-0) - Saturday 1 p.m.

The Wildcats acquitted themselves well in last week's 5-4 home loss to No. 1 Syracuse before a record crowd a Villanova Stadium, holding the Orange scoreless for 40 minutes during the game. Can they take down No. 2 this week? Perhaps, but they'll need to find a way to generate some offense against the nation's top-ranked scoring defense. Tewaaraton Award watch list defenseman Kevin Ridgway anchors a backline that hasn't missed a beat with new goalie John Kemp. Notre Dame's 35 goals allowed through this season's first six games are the fewest in program history for that stretch, and it has held an opposition scoreless for 20 minutes or more on seven different occasions. That spells trouble for the 'Cats, who've gotten balanced scoring but have only two starters with double figures in goals. If Kevin Cunningham (21g, 13a) can get some help, Villanova could challenge in a series dominated lately by the Irish (winners of nine of 10). The 'Cats defense is strong as well, so Domers Zach Brenneman and Sean Rogers could have their work cut out for them in what should be a low-scoring affair at Arlotta Stadium.

WD1: No. 3 Duke (9-1) at No. 2 Northwestern (9-0) - Saturday 2 p.m.

Will Sarah Bullard be back for the Blue Devils? Duke has played the last six games without its star midfielder and not missed a beat, but it could sure use her in Evanston for what's sure to be a shootout. The game will feature two of the nation's best end-to-end players in Duke's Emma Hamm and Northwestern's Taylor Thornton. This could have the makings of a physical affair, too, so free-position finishing could play an integral role in the outcome.

If the women's lacrosse season is going to have any intrigue, then Duke needs to upset Northwestern this weekend. Otherwise, we might as well fast-forward to May and let Maryland and Northwestern battle it out for the championship again. Maryland is rolling at 11-0 and Northwestern, after two close calls to start the season, has won its last seven games by an average margin of 9.4 goals. Duke is the clear No. 3, gave Maryland a battle for a half, and is perhaps the last, best hope to make things interesting.

WD1: No. 13 Vanderbilt (6-5) at Johns Hopkins (7-3) - Sunday 1 p.m.

Hopkins brings a season's best three-game winning streak into its ALC opener, including a 10-7 win at Drexel on Wednesday. Junior Colleen McCaffrey has sparked the offense with 10 goals in the three wins, while freshman Taylor D'Amore also netted three goals in Wednesday's victory. Vanderbilt has been up and down all season, as evidenced by Wednesday's 12-6 loss at unranked Louisville just three days after handing Stanford its first loss of the year. In its favor, Vandy has won five straight in the series with JHU.

Will the real Vanderbilt please stand up? The enigmatic 'Dores lose at a 3-4 Penn State, stun then-No. 7 Stanford, then get doubled up by Louisville. Sounds like time to pick a win, especially against a Hopkins team that's on its way up and perhaps due for a stub of the toe.

MD1: No. 4 North Carolina (7-2) vs. No. 5 Johns Hopkins (6-2) - Sunday 4 p.m. (in East Rutherford, N.J.) (ESPNU)

These two arrive at the Big City Classic in remarkably similar positions, coming off big wins for what are considered young teams. Eight of Johns Hopkins' 10 starters are freshmen or sophomores, including goaltender Pierce Bassett (65.9 save percentage). North Carolina starts three freshmen, including Nick Galasso (team-high 4.0 points per game), and two sophomores. Six other freshmen and one other sophomore played in the Tar Heels' 11-6 win over Maryland last Saturday. The Blue Jays knocked off Virginia, in part, by grabbing an early lead powered by possessions from faceoff man Matt Dolente. He's second in the nation in win percentage (.681) and will likely face another stud in R.G. Keenan (.631). Keenan took two hard hits against Maryland, and his playing status for Sunday is unclear. Coach Joe Breschi told The Baltimore Sun he hoped "to have him dressed and ready to go."

If R.G. Keenan plays and is able to neutralize Matt Dolente, the Tar Heels will have a better shot to win. North Carolina also may have an edge because this is the third year the Tar Heels will play in the Big City Classic, while Hopkins is making their first appearance. North Carolina's more experienced players, like defenseman Ryan Flanagan and attackman Billy Bitter shouldn't be intimidated by the atmosphere. And look for Long Island native Nick Galasso to have a big day, some 50 miles from his hometown. He loves the big stage.

MD1: No. 3 Duke (8-2) vs. No. 1 Syracuse (7-0) - Sunday 6:30 p.m. (in East Rutherford, N.J.) (ESPNU)

Syracuse wasn't really aware of Duke attackman Jordan Wolf before the season. He was a freshman after all, but 26 points in his last six starts to help the Blue Devils to a seven-game win streak will put you on the map. Enough to likely draw a matchup with Orange close defenseman John Lade, who this season has covered Steele Stanwick and Jeremy Boltus, among others. The Orange have been living on the edge of defeat, having won three of its last four games by one-goal, including a turnover-filled 5-4 win at Villanova last Saturday. "We're sick and tired of this," goaltender John Galloway told reporters this week. "We've proven to ourselves that we can win, so I think we can start blowing teams out." Coach John Desko hinted he's hoping for a fast-paced game. "I don't know which Duke team is going to show up," Desko said. "I'm assuming they're going to show up and come in ready to play hard and get after it. [But] I assumed that Hopkins would be that way and they weren't." Duke is playing a lot of freshman, but they also have key returning leaders from last year's title team in attackman Zach Howell, defenseman Tom Montelli and long stick C.J. Costabile. Almost lost in this matchup is the storyline that these are the last two national champions.

We'll know this whole 2012 "End of the World" stuff is legit if Hopkins and Notre Dame meet for the national championship this spring. Those two would make that old Washington & Lee "Armadillo" squad look like a fun-and-gun offensive juggernaut. Thus concludes my interest in these games.

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