May 21, 2011

Eight Players to Watch in NCAA Quarterfinals

by Corey McLaughlin |

Of all the players to watch this weekend, Maryland faceoff man Curtis Holmes could have the most impact on his game. Holmes and the Terps take on top-seeded Syracuse in Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

The set of four NCAA Division I men's quarterfinals this weekend is appetizing with compelling matchups across the bracket. After looking at 16 sweet players to watch in advance of last weekend's first-round games, here's a list of the elite eight to watch Saturday and Sunday at Hofstra University and Gillette Stadium in Massachusetts — again listed in descending order of excitement.

8. Kevin Ridgway, Notre Dame, Sr. D

Ridgway, a first-team All-Big East pick, has been an important part of an Irish defense that's surrendered only 6.54 goals per game. Duke scored 15 goals last week in its first round game against Delaware. One could safely assume Notre Dame doesn't plan on allowing close to that number, and Ridgway will draw a top assignment. He was drafted by the Hamilton Nationals in the third round of the Major League Lacrosse draft. He'll hope to stay MLL ineligible for another week and make the final four again with Notre Dame.

7. Mike Rock, Duke, Sr. G

Rock was a backup until last week, when he was called into starting duty in place of Dan Wigrizer, who was out because of a concussion suffered prior to Saturday's game against Delaware. It's always interesting to see how a relatively untested goalie performs in the postseason. Rock made 12 saves in the win over the Blue Hens and is 3-0 this season. In Duke's season-opener with Notre Dame, Rock played the final quarter, making one save and allowing five goals. How will this one go, or will Wigrizer be able to return to the field? Full disclosure: I went to the same high school at Rock, Bay Shore on Long Island, a fine institution with a boys' team coached by Tim Cox. A friend of mine who played with Rock in an alumni game told me this week, "He had good stick skills and good awareness of what was going on out there."

6. Joel White, Syracuse, Sr. LSM

One of the keys for the Orange will be limiting or preventing Maryland scoring chances in transition. That's just about what every team has tried when they've played the Terps' this season. So, how nice would it be for Syracuse to end some of those transition opportunities, and then begin some of their own? Paging Joel White. That's what he can do. And though they bring different strengths to the table as long pole defenders, if I were Joel White, I would be sick about hearing how Villanova's Brian Karalunas is the best long stick midfielder in the country. Karalunas was selected over White for Big East Defensive Player of the Year. The pick isn't unfair; just could provide some inspiration for White as he closes out a terrific four-year career. White was a unanimous first-team all-conference pick by the Big East coaches and Karalunas wasn't, but Karalunas got defensive player of the year honors.

5. Mark Matthews, Denver, Jr. A

The 6-foot-4 attackman was on the list of 16 players to watch last week and had a small type of coming out party in Denver. He was held pointless in the first half against Villanova, but a few second-half highlight reel goals (at right) were a good starting point for the Canadian to introduce himself to us Americans. His ability to handle the ball in tight spaces, a trait honed while growing up paying indoor lacrosse, was on display. This week, Matthews could draw Johns Hopkins' Tucker Durkin as the primary defender assigned to cover him. Look out for that.

4. Matt Dolente, Johns Hopkins, Sr. FO/M

Dolente is the nation's best specialist, winning 67 percent of faceoffs he's taken this year, and giving the Blue Jays tons of more possessions than opponents. The Pioneers' Chase Carraro has been known to leave a footprint on games, too, and has won 60 percent. But Dolente took care of a 66-percent winner last week in Hofstra's John Antoniades, securing 13 of 20 draws and getting eight ground balls. Can he keep it going? The only unit I've seen who has been able to slow Dolente down is Maryland's Curtis Holmes and the Terps wingmen, who held Dolente to 12-for-25 in the rivalry game won by Hopkins, 12-11, in overtime April 16.

3. Rob Pannell, Cornell, Jr. A

The Tewaaraton Award frontrunner scored a game-high four goals in Cornell's first meeting with Virginia, an 11-9 loss March 12 at the Face-Off Classic at the Baltimore Ravens' stadium. That was the first game back for David Lau, who had been out with a hamstring injury and was moved from midfielder to attack; a decision that coach Ben DeLuca at the time said would benefit the Big Red long term to give them another play maker on attack. The spotlight has only brightened on the Cornell offense, and Pannell, since then.

Pannell, from Smithtown on Long Island, will also be back near home playing at Hofstra, which has some special value for him. He still has the large placard taken from the Cornell's 2009 quarterfinal appearance at Hofstra in his frat house bedroom. Welcome Cornell Big Red, it says.

2. Steele Stanwick, Virginia, Jr. A

Stanwick has a chance to put himself in heavy consideration for the Tewaaraton Award if he can lead an effort to beat Cornell. Big Red defenseman Max Feely held Stanwick scoreless in the first meeting March 12, but it's hard to imagine that will happen again. Much of the Virginia offense is now relying on Stanwick without the Bratton twins in the lineup, and they were on the field for the first Cornell game.

Stanwick is now feeling closer to 100 percent healthy, after dealing with a calf injury that has healed. But a strained foot still bothers him. Nevertheless, his eight-point performance Sunday in a first-round comeback win over Bucknell was nothing short of impressive. He scored consecutive goals to tie the score at 12 with 1:46 left. Earlier in the season, he also had the overtime goal in Virginia's 11-10 win over North Carolina April 11 (this is the play on which he injured the calf). And before that, he came up clutch Feb. 26 against Stony Brook, when for the first time Virginia played without Shamel and Rhamel Bratton due to suspensions. Stanwick scored five goals, including the overtime winner, with a game-high seven points. Can we see some more magic?

1. Curtis Holmes, Maryland, So. FO/M

Of all the matchups this weekend, Maryland's faceoff performance against Syracuse is the biggest to watch, and is the key to a potential upset of the tournament top seed. "The one glaring thing they do extremely well is faceoffs," Syracuse coach John Desko told reporters this week.

Holmes is a 60-percent face off winner and has taken nearly every faceoff for the Terps while "we've been trying to find ourselves there with matchups," Desko said of using mainly seniors Jeremy Thompson and Josh Knight and freshman Ricky Buhr, neither of whom has won more than 51 percent of his faceoffs this season.

Holmes will get the greatest share of the attention and his final stat numbers will be scrutinized, but the Maryland wingmen, and more, are just as important. "They make it a 10-man type of ground ball," Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala said of Maryland's face off approach after the Blue Jays played the Terps last month.

Desko agreed, saying "They create a lot of transition off their faceoffs. You have to plan for violations. They're a team somewhat like us in they try to get some goals in different ways other than just the set offense. The biggest challenge is going to be the faceoffs and making good use of our possessions."

Holmes will try to limit them.

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