March 16, 2011

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Lambrecht: Syracuse, Virginia on Crash Course for Memorial Day

by Gary Lambrecht | LaxMagazine.com


Virginia goalie Adam Ghitelman is the ACC's all-time wins leader, but he has yet to take the Cavaliers past the NCAA semifinals, a glass ceiling the UVA seniors appear poised to shatter this year.

© Greg Wall

Two months from now, a school such as Hofstra, Stony Brook or Denver could be starting one of those magical playoff rides all the way to its first-ever appearance on Memorial Day weekend at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Recent history tells us it's bound to happen in the NCAA Division I men's lacrosse tournament, as parity creeps deeper into the game. Massachusetts got to its first and only national title game in 2006. Delaware flew into the national semifinals a year later. Notre Dame was still standing on the last day of the 2011 season, for the first time in the program's history.

Lacrosse Nation no doubt will pull for a newcomer to make it to the championship game again. Do I see some raised hands for Albany? Ohio State? Army?

I know it's way early, folks. And I hate to kill the mood and give the underdogs the back of my hand. But I'm having a hard time not envisioning the familiar in the tournament final. Based on the season's early returns, I'm sticking with the chalk.

Somebody must do something off-the-charts special to prevent the Memorial Day collision between Syracuse and Virginia.

The top-ranked Orange and second-ranked Cavaliers each passed through Baltimore last weekend by making appearances at the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic. Each team dug down to defeat a more inspired opponent, as Syracuse turned back Georgetown in overtime, 9-8, while Virginia came back to edge Cornell in the game that followed, 11-9.

Neither of the bluebloods was on its best behavior, and neither of the top dogs is without weakness.

Syracuse, now 5-0 after defeating Albany on 18-13 on Tuesday, is still searching for consistent production from its second midfield line, and the Orange has had major problems with its extra-man offense, which is 5-for-23 so far. Against Georgetown, the Orange got out-hustled all day to ground balls, dropped too many balls, and was perplexed at times by the Hoyas' zone defense. Syracuse committed seven penalties and played maybe 15 minutes of Cuse-like lacrosse.

Virginia (6-1) looked tired and sluggish on offense, while falling behind, 7-5, midway through the third quarter. And the Cavaliers' young defense still does too much ball-watching. The team's starting attack got pushed around down low and managed to score just one goal. Tewaaraton Trophy contender Steele Stanwick was a complete non-factor.

Both teams, however, showed the character, resourcefulness and talent that separate them from the pack of good teams beneath them.

The Orange got four goals from senior attackman Stephen Keogh, turned it on just enough offensively whenever it was required, and played rugged defense for most of the contest. Virginia showcased its depth, as backup midfielders Colin Briggs (three goals) and Rob Emery (two goals) stepped up to rescue an offense that only put 21 of 43 shots on goal. The Cavaliers also put away Cornell with stingy, fourth-quarter defense. Virginia never let Big Red feeder extraordinaire Rob Pannell dominate with his passing.

These heavyweights have played their typical, early-season classic, as Syracuse held serve over Virginia in the Carrier Dome by a 12-10 count on March 4.

It's impossible to ignore the signs that a rematch is coming at the home of the Ravens.

First of all, you have to assume both squads will get better as the spring progresses. Virginia's defense will complement its highly explosive scoring more consistently. Syracuse will iron out its midfield depth shortage and its EMO woes enough to make its excellent defense more airtight.

Secondly, each team is blessed with a senior and fourth-year starter in the cage, each of whom brought another strong game on Saturday. John Galloway, the reigning, first-team All-American from Syracuse, turned in a 13-save day and won his school-record 48th career game. Virginia's Adam Ghitelman set an Atlantic Coast Conference record with his 43rd win, also by making 13 stops.

You got the sense Syracuse and Virginia eyed each other from a distance on Saturday, and they will continue to do so throughout the regular season. Syracuse, NCAA titlists in 2008 and 2009, is still smarting from that first-round, tournament upset loss to Army last year. Virginia, amazingly, is still looking for its first NCAA final appearance since its undefeated team won it all in 2006. The Cavaliers' senior class, led by Ghitelman and midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton, will not go 0-for-4, right?

Sure, I wouldn't mind if another interloper showed up on the season's final weekend. It's hard not to pull for a fun offensive team such as Stony Brook or a coach such as Hofstra's Seth Tierney. But from this March vantage point, everything points to the sounds of Syracuse smacking into Virginia for all of the marbles.

I'm just waiting for the crash.


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