March 5, 2012

Matt's Monday Midfielder: Murray Gets Feet Wet Covering Wolf

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com Twitter

Maryland's ACC season-opening win over Duke may not have a huge impact in the grand scheme of predicting the national champion, but it sure mattered for Terps freshman defenseman Goran Murray, who limited Duke's top attackman Jordan Wolf to just one assist.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Close your eyes. Remain calm. Take deep breaths. Free your mind of distractions. Connect with your inner spirit.

Now, look to your future. It's Memorial Day weekend. You're in Foxborough, Mass. Who do you see? (After the weekend's stacked slate of top-10 games, probably Virginia, Johns Hopkins, Cornell and Maryland, all of which remained undefeated and sit atop the new rankings.)

OK, open your eyes. Back to reality. No more crystal-ball gazing.

The chorus was clear this weekend in College Park, where Maryland topped Duke 10-7 behind a strong defensive effort: What happens on March 3 won't have much impact on what happens on May 28. "It's still the first week in March," Terps coach John Tillman said. "It's a long season."

So let's keep things in perspective. The March Maryland-Duke matchup hasn't exactly been a telltale sign of things to come. In fact, the loser of the last two regular season meetings ended up playing for the national title.

And how about this for ironic: Virginia hoisted the championship trophy last year nearly three months after falling to Syracuse 12-10. The Orange won it all in 2008 but lost to the Cavaliers, 13-12, that February.

This wasn't lost on Virginia coach Dom Starsia, who told the Syracuse Post Standard: "Syracuse is going to be a very different team a month from now. In the years we've won championships, we've lost this game three out of those four years. So, somebody asked me what the result means, and frankly I think the result is meaningless in a lot of ways. I prefer to win the game, you know, but in the bigger picture I don't think it changes either team too much."

Sufficiently convinced? Good. Now — not to confuse you — there's still plenty to glean from every game, even if it's played in March...

Five Takeaways from No. 10 Duke at No. 5 Maryland

1. Fresh Impact

A year ago, then-freshman Duke attackman Jordan Wolf established himself as one of the nation's most feared and dangerous dodgers against Maryland — his first game in the Blue Devils' starting lineup. Wolf hadn't scored a goal to that point in the season but exploded for a hat trick against the Terrapins, scoring Duke's last two goals, including the game-winner in overtime. It was Wolf's coming out party of sorts. Twelve days later against North Carolina, Wolf scored four goals and forced the Tar Heels to bump reigning NCAA Defenseman of the Year Ryan Flanagan to cover him. He had arrived.

On Saturday, Maryland freshman defenseman Goran Murray made sure of this: If you didn't know his name already, now you do. Going head-to-head with — you got it — Wolf, Murray limited the ACC's leading scorer to just one assist, which came on a meaningless goal with 71 seconds left. Wolf only managed to take one shot.

"I just tried to match speed with him," Murray said. "I kept my stick in front and ran with him. He's pretty quick. But I'm pretty quick too."

When Tillman was asked if that was the idea — pitting speed against speed — he had in mind when lining up Murray against Wolf, Tillman said: "We just felt like that was our best matchup. Listen, I don't think anyone can stop Jordan Wolf one-on-one. That was our whole game plan: We can't leave Goran on an island and expect Goran to stop Wolf. It's 7-on-6, everybody has got to do their part."

The Terps played sound team defense, but Murray was all over the field. Though the box score says he forced one turnover and picked up one ground ball, Murray also did the little things that don't show up — like backing up several shots to swing possession in Maryland's favor.

Murray learned of his assignment Wednesday and spent several hours a day watching film of Wolf leading up to Saturday's conference-opener. But Murray already had a head start on his homework: He grew up about 10 minutes from Wolf in Philadelphia's suburbs and they played together on the region's elite summer travel team, Duke's lacrosse club.

Despite playing prep lacrosse for Lacrosse Magazine's top-ranked Haverford School, which went 23-0 in 2011 and sent a handful of players to Division I programs, Murray and Tillman said he wasn't immediately ready for the demands of ACC lacrosse. But he proved he was Saturday.

"I didn't expect this kind of role this early," said Murray, who ranked among the top recruits in the country. "I had a hard time in the fall adjusting to the game and the speed and how much work you've got to put in to be good and great. Throughout that, I worked really, really hard and went in a lot, watched film every day. Learning the game more and more, it put me in a position to get a spot. When I got that spot, I played my [expletive] off."

Said Tillman: "I'm really happy for Goran. He had a tough fall. Being a freshman in the ACC, or anywhere, is a tough adjustment. For Goran, it was just a totally different game from high school. He struggled a little bit. He juggled a lot of different balls. But I'm very proud of him. He came back with a brand new approach to things, a little more confidence. I think he felt like after the first semester he could take a deep breath, whether it was the academics or socially or athletically, and start anew. He's been terrific. He's put a lot of time in. He was in coach Warne's office this week a lot watching film of Jordan Wolf, watching their offense. I'm really proud of him, because as good of a player as he is, he's a better human being. He's a wonderful, wonderful guy."

Duke tried to get Wolf free on several occasions, working a two-man game from X with Christian Walsh and setting razor picks near goal-line extended. But everything the Blue Devils ran seemed to be a split-second off, as Murray's speed forced the issue.

Duke coach John Danowski deferred comment on Murray, but he offered an evaluation of Wolf's play.

"Jordan didn't understand the game within the context of the team offense sometimes. We were just disappointed," Danowski said. "He didn't move the ball at times, and when he did, he forced it. We were looking for him to do a couple other things as far as Jordan's decision-making."

2. Substance, Not Style

Junior attackman Owen Blye was blunt in assessing Maryland's offensive performance against Duke: "The flashy stuff? You don't have to look good to win. Playing Terp lacrosse is what wins games."

Drew Snider paced Maryland with three goals Saturday, but it was an otherwise-balanced offensive effort that featured 10 players with points, including eight different goal scorers.

As Blye suggested, Snider didn't do anything fancy. "No behind-the-back stuff, just simple fundamentals," Snider said.

Snider scored twice on step-down, overhand shots to the upper corners of the cage. The third came on the run, dodging from behind, but he still managed to get square to the cage.

Snider's hat trick came after Billy Gribbin and John Haus scored two goals each to lead the Terps' in the season-opening 12-6 win over Hartford, and Joe Cummings buried four goals in last weekend's 16-11 defeat of Georgetown.

"I don't think we have any great one player, but I think we have a lot of good parts collectively," Tillman said. "They don't really care who gets the accolades, they just want to win. They enjoy playing with each other, and they're very selfless."

Tillman talked in the fall about having a host of hybrid middie-attackers that allows his offense to be flexible. As a result, it's pick your poison. It's hard to anticipate where the offense will be generated.

"Every game it's going to be different, somebody new is going to be stepping up," Snider said. "That's what's great about our offense: It's not always one guy that has to do it. It's not just one guy, it's the whole team."

Snider, who scored 17 goals in 13 starts last year, should continue to take an expanding role within the Terps' offense in 2012.

"He's one of our best leaders, and I think he's really changed his role, losing so many guys from last year," Tillman said. "We needed some more dominant personalities, and I think Drew has always been a quiet leader, but he was very well liked. He now can step up and have a little bit more of a vocal presence, and he can relate really well with the young guys. When he says something, he doesn't have to yell. He just says it, and the guys will follow him. He's really invested a lot. I'm really proud of what he's done so far."

Terps goalie Niko Amato had a reassuring talk from mentor and former Team USA goaltender Brian Dougherty last week.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

3. What the Doc Ordered

Danowski smirked when asked about Duke's second-half rally: "It's not often that you out-shoot an opponent 25-6 after halftime and lose," he said. But that's what the Blue Devils did Saturday, as Maryland sophomore goalie Niko Amato stood on his head and made nine fourth-quarter saves to keep Duke at a distance. Amato's stops were of every variety: falling down and standing up, kick saves and stick saves.

Amato shined on last May's big stage, making 43 saves in four NCAA tournament games, holding postseason opponents to 23.3 percent shooting (24 for 103). And Saturday, Amato continued to establish himself among the short list of the nation's top goalies.

"We have so much confidence in Niko," Tillman said. "Like any guy, he'll go through his ups and downs, and that's the toughest thing: Niko holds himself to such high standards that if he has a bad quarter or a bad practice or a bad drill, sometimes he's a little too tough on himself."

Ups and downs? Hard to believe. Amato would never let you know.

Tillman said Amato spoke with former Maryland and Team USA goalie Brian Dougherty last week after going "through a little bit of a funk" at practice. Dougherty, currently the head coach at Chestnut Hill College, is from Philadelphia like Amato and has coached Amato in the past.

"I think that really helped Niko," Tillman said. "Talking to Doc, who mentored him and was maybe the greatest goalie at Maryland, was really helpful. Just in terms of saying, 'Hey, you're not Superman. Everybody has their off days. You've got to forget it, move on and challenge yourself.'"

4. Back to Basics

A box score breaks down a matchup by the numbers, but it doesn't always tell a game's whole story. Take a look at Saturday's stats...

Shots: Duke 40, Maryland 28

Ground Balls: Duke 28, Maryland 27

Faceoffs: Duke 11, Maryland 9

Clears: Duke 18-18, Maryland 21-25

Turnovers: Duke 15, Maryland 20

But the one that matters most?

Final score: Maryland 10, Duke 7.

"Our guys have learned a little bit about themselves," Danowski said. "We did a lot of hustle, athletic things. We just didn't do enough lacrosse things. We need to become better lacrosse players, a better lacrosse offense — moving the ball, recognizing situations, better technique, better footwork. Those are the things we can work on. All the hustle, the desire — that was all there."

And as Danowski pointed out, "spring break comes at a great time — this week. We just get back to teaching and the basics."

It'll be all lacrosse, all the time for the Blue Devils, as they work through the game tape and learn from Saturday's loss.

One thing Danowski said he hoped his team wouldn't let happen again? Falling behind 4-0 in the first eight minutes. "You're never quite sure, but that's the hope," he said. "You played out at Notre Dame, and you played Maryland at College Park. Let's go. Let's play."

"Playing on the road, playing in front of a real good crowd here, playing a great opponent, you've got to be ready from the beginning. For whatever reason, I thought our guys were somewhat paralyzed," Danowski said. "They didn't seem to be talking. They seemed to be quiet on the field — for whatever reason, I don't know. Once the game became a game, I thought they were having more fun. They competed. What triggers that? With each team, I don't know. I don't know our guys well enough yet this year to know what triggered that. Maybe the thought of being embarrassed and losing 32-0? Because we were on pace to lose 32-0 at that point. Maybe that was it? I don't know."

For all that was made of Maryland's inexperience, Duke is young too. Danowski starts an all-sophomore attack and two second-years on defense.

"Once the game became a game, I thought they were having more fun. What triggers that? ... Maybe the thought of being embarrassed and losing 32-0? Because we were on pace to lose 32-0 at that point."

-- Duke coach John Danowski

5. Turri Stands Tall

If Duke and Maryland meet again later this season, we know who will be in cage for the Terps: Amato. But who will be his counterpart?

Duke freshman goalie Kyle Turri started his third straight game in cage for the Blue Devils on Saturday. He made eight saves and allowed 10 goals against Maryland's efficient offense.

"Overall, I would have to say Kyle played solid," Danowski said. "I'd have to look at the film. I don't know if he had much of a chance on the first four. To play in this environment, to stand up like he did, clearing the ball and keeping his poise — admirable."

Kyle, younger brother of redshirt senior midfielder Justin Turri, is a member of the U.S. men's national under-19 team that will play in Finland this summer.

Junior Dan Wigrizer, who was just the sixth true freshman goalie to win a national title as a starter for Duke in 2010, started the first two games of the season, but hasn't played since. Wigrizer is dealing with an undisclosed injury, though Danowski isn't entirely committed to sticking with one guy — yet.

"What we really liked about Kyle was his ability in the clearing game, and he just seemed to earn the opportunity with his play in practice," Danowski told The Baltimore Sun last week. "[Fifth-year senior] Mike Rock played real well in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville, and so we think we have three goalies that are very capable at being successful."

The guess here? Turri has the inside track to keep the starter's spot.

The 10 Spot: Stats to Stew

10 – Rank, in SportsCenter's Top 10 Plays, of John Kaestner's goal on Friday night in Johns Hopkins' 10-8 victory over Princeton. Not a bad way to score your first career goal, huh? The junior attackman was thrust into a starting spot Friday as both Chris Boland and Wells Stanwick were sidelined with injuries. Kaestner sparked the Blue Jays' 4-1 run to open the fourth quarter by wrapping a shot around the post from a near-impossible angle to beat Princeton goalie Tyler Fiorito. Interesting tidbit: After breaking down the highlight, ESPN anchor Linda Cohn said her son plays lacrosse.

9 – Saves made by Syracuse redshirt sophomore goalie Matt Lerman, a career-high, against Virginia in Sunday's thrilling top-10 matchup, though the Orange fell 14-10. Lerman, who has started all three games this year, split halves with Dominic Lamolnara in the season's first two contests but went three quarters against the Cavaliers. "Matt played so well in the first half. We hesitated to make the change at halftime because of how well he was doing," coach John Desko said. "We decided to make the change just to see if Dom could give us a little pick-me-up going into the fourth quarter." Though Desko didn't give any indication, Lerman's performance might have solidified his starting spot going into Big East play.

8 – Consecutive goals scored by Delaware against Villanova, turning a 7-3 second-quarter deficit into an 11-7 third-quarter lead, and the Blue Hens held on for a 13-9 win. Coming off close losses to Johns Hopkins and Mount St. Mary's, Delaware was cold early against the Wildcats but rallied with backup goalkeeper Brett Anton between the pipes, holding Nova's high-powered offense scoreless for a stretch of 26:55. "This is a blue-collar team, so there was no panic in our guys [when we were down 6-0]," Delaware coach Bob Shillinglaw said. "There was nothing negative. They just kept getting after it and just kept thinking about the next play and the next situation and how they could build on it."

7 – Number of games Maryland has lost since 2002 when finding the back of net 10 or more times — that's the magic number. The Terrapins have won 85 of 92 games (92.3 percent) when they score double-digit goals in the last 11 seasons, and the trend continued on Saturday with their 10-7 defeat of Duke. Maryland is 3-0 in such games in 2012.

6 – Number of combined games that No. 1 Virginia and No. 2 Johns Hopkins will play — three each — before facing each other March 24. It'll be a true clash of the titans either way, but wouldn't it be neat if both teams have undefeated records for that game? The Blue Jays have a slightly easier road, facing Manhattan, UMBC and Syracuse, while the Cavaliers meet Vermont, Cornell and Ohio State.

5 – Number of overtime periods Fairfield had played entering this weekend — three against Hofstra, two against Bryant — before needing another extra session to get past UMBC, 10-9, on Saturday. John Snellman's third goal of the game gave the battle-tested Stags the victory, pushing them to 4-0 despite only a six-goal differential (42 for, 36 against) on the season. Hey, as the saying goes, "a win is a win is a win."

4 – Goals per game allowed by the nation's top-ranked team in scoring defense, Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish topped Drexel, 6-5, on Saturday. Expect another hard-fought, low-scoring game this weekend when Notre Dame faces Hofstra, which allowed an NCAA-low 6.56 goals per game in 2011. "Our defense has been pretty consistent all year long," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said. "They have not given up a lot of chances and [Saturday] they held a good team at bay." Through three games, opponents are shooting 12 percent against Notre Dame.

3 – Road victories by Lehigh already in 2012, after upsetting No. 4 North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Saturday. Since a 17-7 home loss to Villanova, the Mountain Hawks also have strung together three straight W's — a 13-0 shellacking of Manhattan, plus back-to-back wins over NCAA tournament teams with last weekend's 10-4 win against Penn inside Franklin Field. Saturday marked Lehigh's first win over the Tar Heels since 1951. As pointed out by Lacrosse Magazine editor and colleague Matt DaSilva — Adele reference aside — with faceoff specialist Ryan Snyder, freshman goalie Matt Poillon and a pair of first-year Canadian finishers on attack, coach Kevin Cassese's club is primed and dangerous.

2 – Wins secured by Penn State against its fellow lacrosse-playing Big Ten schools, Michigan and Ohio State, to capture the inaugural Creator's Trophy. Two is also the number of goals the Nittany Lions allowed against the Buckeyes on Saturday in the 5-2 win, and the number of goals scored by senior attackman Matt Mackrides, which gave Penn State two straight wins over ranked opponents Penn State beat Michigan, 16-9, on Feb. 18.

1 – Number of varsity wins in program history for Michigan, after the Wolverines dominated Mercer, 14-4, on Sunday. It took six games — and Michigan almost won the fifth, losing in overtime to Jacksonville, 9-8 — but Michigan is officially off the schneid. "It's obviously pretty nice to get the first win," coach John Paul said. "We really felt like we were getting closer this week. We saw a lot of improvement over the course of the week. A lot of that manifested itself two days ago against Jacksonville. We played our best game of the season to this point and we knew if we just continued to get better every day, which we've been doing this season, then this was going to come at some point so it's great to get it."

Tweeter of the Week

Stony Brook women's coach Joe Spallina tweets reflect his personality that's brought an instant impact to the Seawolves' program.
© Greg Shemitz (file)

There's only one fitting word to describe Tweeter of the Week, Joe Spallina: Boom. Or, maybe more appropriately: Booooommmmm!

Stony Brook's first-year head coach wins this week's award after the Fighting Spallinas announced their presence on the national stage with an explosive 15-14 defeat of Johns Hopkins on Saturday. A three-time NCAA champion at Division II Adelphi, Spallina has the Seawolves off to the school's first-ever 5-0 start after upsetting their first-ever ranked opponent.

Said Spallina, who's also the head coach of Major League Lacrosse's Long Island Lizards, on Saturday: "For me, personally, walking into a situation where they had four wins all last season, three wins the year before, and trying to convince kids that you can do it — It's special. It means a lot. I just loved the look on the kids' faces after the game."

More than anything, Spallina's week in tweets embodies that quote. His players have bought in. They believe in his message. They believe in themselves. And they'll continue to make noise. Booooommmmm!

Here are some of my favorite tweets from the last week, in reverse chronological order — starting last Sunday and going through yesterday.

- The victory of success will be half won when you learn the secret of putting out more than is expected in all that you do. Big week sblax

- Ready for Saturday NOW!!!

- "If you think you can win, you can win. Faith is necessary to victory." - booommmm here we go 5 days

- Champions aren't made in the gyms. Champions are made from something they have deep inside them - a desire, a dream, a vision. Four days

- The best athletes in the world r those who r willing to push harder then anyone else& go through more pain then anyone else. 3 days we ready

- "We're all capable if we have faith and passion." less than three days.let's go

- On bus to the "HOP"... one day 29,hours #showtime

- The ones who want to achieve & win championships motivate themselves. Booooommmmm

- Proud of my team! Huge win vs ranked johns Hopkins. team mates picking up team mates. thank god for laptops team watching duke film! Big1Monday

- You can't have a better tomorrow if you're still thinking about yesterday." beat hop Duke on Monday. Keep chopping wood -- focus


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