April 16, 2012

Monday Midfielder: What's With Duke's Hex on Virginia?

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Duke sophomore defenseman Henry Lobb stuck to Steele Stanwick for much of Friday's night game against the Cavaliers, as part of the Blue Devils plan to stay on Stanwick's hips and gloves.
© Matt Riley 

Sometimes you're better off not trying to explain the inexplicable.

Virginia has lost 23 games in the last eight years. Twelve of those losses are to Duke. The Cavaliers' seniors have lost 11 games in their careers. Six are to Duke.

After Duke topped Virginia 13-5 Friday night, the Blue Devils' hex over their ACC rivals continued, having beaten the Wahoos in 12 of the last 13 meetings. Try to make sense of that.

Soaking in Friday the 13th's game from the sidelines of Klockner Stadium, the Monday Midfielder was left wondering what everyone else was thinking: How?

And this was after spending three days embedded in Durham with access to Duke's week of practice and preparation. Now, that's not to question coach John Danowski and his staff. If you saw any of the game, you know the Blue Devils were well prepared.

But 12 of 13? Despite a consistently inconsistent season — one in which Danowski said his team was still looking to establish its identity during a seven-game win streak — the Blue Devils did it again. No matter where or when, no matter the dynamic, personnel, system, scheme, site or venue, Duke has had Virginia's number. It's more than coincidence, right?

Down on the sidelines, Danowski approached me between the third and fourth quarters. Duke held a 9-2 lead. Danowski's expressions said it all: two shrugs of the shoulders, coupled with an opening of the hands toward the sky, and a semi-smirk.

Sometimes you just don't know.

(It's not just Virginia, by the way. The Devils also have gone 14-1 against Tobacco Road rival North Carolina since 2005.)

Slowing Stanwick

LaxMagazine.com's three-episode video documentary from inside Duke's Murray Building — the team's campus headquarters — will debut later this week, breaking down all the behind-the-scenes details of Friday's game. Be sure to check it out.

But for now, everyone is wondering how Duke defended Steele Stanwick and held the reigning Tewaaraton Award winner scoreless for three quarters — Stanwick tallied one goal and two assists in the final period.

Said Virginia coach Dom Starsia: "They didn't really slide early to Steele. They just let the kid that was covering him stretch out, push him, make him catch the ball on the endline with somebody on his hands and work for everything that he got."

Relying largely on 6-foot-4, 205-pound sophomore defenseman Henry Lobb — 6-foot-4, 211-pound sophomore Chris Hipps also dueled with Stanwick, mostly in the second quarter — Duke pressed out on Stanwick behind the cage. Lobb was on an island, one-on-one, with the nation's most dangerous player, but his length and athleticism allowed him to stay on Stanwick's hips and gloves.

Knowing Stanwick is a feeder first and scorer second, the defense didn't slide when he dodged and instead focused on covering the cutters in front by denying the passing lanes. In the pick-and-pop situations where Stanwick is so deadly, Duke didn't pre-determine a switch, opting to fight through the screen if possible or allowing a short-stick to guard Stanwick if necessary. This forced defenders to make on-the-fly decisions in the heat of the moment and made communication critical.

It's an aggressive — potentially risky — style, and one that would be difficult to sustain for 60 minutes. If Virginia held for extended offensive possessions Duke likely would have been forced to frequently rotate between Lobb and Hipps to keep them fresh.

"We just didn't have the gumption to be able to really make them work at the defensive end and make them pay for the pressure they were putting on us," Starsia said.

It's probably unfair to focus all the attention on Stanwick and Lobb, though. One player doesn't do the job on Stanwick — by himself. Virginia has so many weapons and Duke had to play great team defense to hold Virginia to a season-low five goals — and even if it was Stanwick's second-lowest scoring output of the season, he still led the Cavaliers with three points.

Keys To The Game

The way we see it, there were three other key elements to Duke's victory:

- Transition goals. Duke wasn't afraid to push the ball, evidenced best by back-to-back goals by defensemen Mike Manley and Luke Duprey. Jordan Wolf and Rob Rotanz also had goals in unsettled situations.

- Ground balls. Before Friday, both teams had allowed their opponent to pick up more ground balls than they did on one occasion. Duke won the battle 39-37, including 22-16 in the second half. "I would say that's their strength overall: loose ball play around the midline," Starsia said.

- Related, CJ Costabile won 10-of-19 faceoffs but impacted the game more than the numbers say around the faceoff X, as he scooped up nine ground balls. "If he doesn't win the draw, he can still create turnovers and cause some havoc," Danowski said. "We always know that Virginia has such a great, athletic team that there's going to be a lot of bodies flying in the faceoff game on the wings, and from both boxes — the offensive and defensive box. We made that a priority all week."

*****

Johns Hopkins sold out Homewood Field for the first time since 2004 on Saturday, part of a highly-attended weekend of lacrosse featuring several rivalry games.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

What a great weekend of lacrosse.

Four games received ESPNU television treatment, while CBS College Sports Network, Big Ten Network and Time Warner Cable Sports each aired two. The Atlantic published an article titled "Will Lacrosse Ever Go Mainstream?" that didn't directly answer the headline's question, but claimed "it would be foolish to overlook lacrosse's potential." And there were several record-breaking or noteworthy games fans attended across the country...

No. 9 Maryland at No. 3 Johns Hopkins: A Saturday night capacity crowd of 8,500 — including NFL coaches Bill Belichick and John Harbaugh — filled Homewood Field, lining the fence around the stadium. It was Hopkins' first home sellout since 2004.

Navy at Army: More than 10,000 fans flocked to Michie Stadium on Saturday for the Star Game to watch one of the most intense, hard-fought games of every season — the battle between the service academies. Passion poured out the seams in West Point.

No. 7 Duke at No. 1 Virginia: A season-high 7,234 fans packed the gulls at Klockner Stadium on Friday night, dotting the three grassy berms surrounding the sides of the playing surface with orange and blue.

No. 18 Bucknell at No. 11 Lehigh: More than 800 standing-room only onlookers joined 1,200 others for Lehigh's 9-8 defeat of Bucknell, as Kyle Feeney scored the game-winner with 14 seconds left. The 2,096 fans shattered the previous Ulrich Sports Complex record of 1,645 set in 2008.

Ohio State at Michigan: The Battle at the Big House attracted 4,458 Midwesterners to witness one of the greatest rivalries in sports.

No. 8 Denver at No. 4 Loyola: A 2,547-person sellout stuffed Peter Barton Lacrosse Stadium for this ECAC thriller Saturday night, marking the second highest attendance in Denver history.

Plus, more than 6,000 were in Charlotte for the ESPNU Warrior Classic at American Legion Memorial Stadium, and 4,000 went to Bethpage (N.Y.) High for UMass-Drexel.

This weekend's big crowds got us thinking... How do 2012's attendance figures stack up against previous years? You know The Monday Midfielder loves crunching numbers. If not, check out our previous forays into the world of statistics.

How does 2012 compare? Regular-season, on-campus home attendance for the past six seasons (2006-11) has been fairly consistent. Each year averaged somewhere between 1,200-1,300 fans per game. And per The Monday Midfielder's calculations — using publically available data on conference websites — through this point in the season, schools are averaging about 1,150 fans per game. Sometimes you go in expecting to find something and you turn up nothing new.

So what gives? Well, there are still games remaining on the schedule. Big games and rivalry games, at that. As the weather gets warmer, more and more fans will fill the seats. And seemingly an increasing number of games every year are played outside college venues — instead at neutral sites.

Top 10 Average Attendance, 2012

Syracuse: 4,375
Virginia: 4,085
Maryland: 3,471
Johns Hopkins: 2,976
Notre Dame: 2,108
Denver: 1,932
Hofstra: 1,819
Cornell: 1,778
North Carolina: 1,677
Navy: 1,669

Top 15 Average Attendance, 2006-2011

Syracuse: 5,262
Navy: 4,712
Johns Hopkins: 3,174
Virginia: 2,952
Maryland: 2,380
Duke: 2,094
Hofstra: 2,069
Cornell: 2,011
Loyola: 1,974
Princeton: 1,961
Georgetown: 1,719
Towson: 1709
UMass: 1,650
Harvard: 1,594
North Carolina: 1,543

As pointed out by Lacrosse Magazine colleague and photographer extraordinaire John Strohsacker, there might be a connection to draw here between home attendance, revenue and success for Division I men's lacrosse programs. In a world where some schools don't charge admission costs, the correlation might be challenging to prove; whereas in men's basketball, for example, ticket sales account for the single-biggest revenue source for many programs.

But what comes first, the chicken or the egg? Does winning attract big crowds? Or do big crowds help with winning? More likely, it's a self-fulfilling cycle.

What steps can lacrosse take to help boost attendance? One thought, courtesy of Danowski: Follow in football's footsteps and dedicate different days of the week to different levels of play. Why not have high schools play Friday nights and colleges Saturday afternoons? Don't compete for the same fan bases. Let everyone enjoy the best the sport has to offer and not have to make a choice.

The Monday Midfielder went to Virginia-Duke on Friday and Hopkins-Maryland on Saturday, but make no mistake, would've enjoyed catching some of the Checking for Cancer high school tournament featuring Conestoga (Pa.) vs. Garden City (N.Y.) or Wilton (Conn.) vs. Penn Charter (Pa.).

One team that might be buying into the philosophy? Notre Dame, which has played five of its 10 games this season on Sunday. The Fighting Irish, by the way, have seen one of the biggest attendance boosts in the last six seasons. They averaged 950 fans per game in 2006, and have averaged 2,108 per game in 2012.

The 10 Spot Countdown: Stats to Stew

Haven't digested enough numbers? Here are a few more...

10 – Shots taken by Mark Matthews — none of which found the back of the net — in Denver's 12-9 loss to Loyola on Saturday, snapping a 39-game goal scoring streak dating back to 2010. The Tewaaraton Award nominee scored 107 goals during the streak.

9 – Overtime periods played by Yale this season, after Friday's 11-10 quadruple overtime defeat of Brown. Earlier this year, the Bulldogs lost in five extra sessions to Princeton in the longest game in school history. "We had been here before," Yale defenseman Peter Johnson said. "We were a little bit more comfortable, and if anything, it made us want this win a lot more because we know the feeling of losing that deep into a game. We were used to getting kill off of kill, defensively. We were just ready to keep killing them as long as it takes."

8 – Faceoffs, out of 12, won by Syracuse close defenseman Brian Megill against Rutgers in the Orange's 19-6 victory Saturday. Megill, who entered the game having taken only nine draws all season, helped Syracuse control possession and record a season-high scoring outburst after struggling at the X most of the year. "Coach (Kevin) Donahue told me I was going to get the nod yesterday," Megill told the Syracuse Post Standard. "I was pretty jacked up. I was thinking about it all night, what move I would do first. I was able to find my comfort zone, and the wings did a great job boxing out for me."

7 – Number of weekends since Cornell star Rob Pannell suffered an undisclosed ankle injury that put him out indefinitely. Don't look now, but all Cornell has done since a 9-8 overtime loss to Virginia — its first game without Pannell — is rattle off six straight wins, including last week's 12-6 defeat of Syracuse. Initial reports after Pannell's injury estimated a six-to-eight week recovery period. So could Pannell be on the brink of rejoining the Big Red? Maybe a triumphant Senior Day return Saturday against Brown? Or a date with Ivy League foe Princeton, on the road, lingers April 28.

6 – Goals scored by Maryland in the second half of Saturday's 9-6 defeat of Johns Hopkins, compared to one goal allowed. When Chris Boland scored 43 seconds after coming out of the locker room to start the second half, it looked like the Blue Jays would cruise. Not so fast, my friend.

5 – Of the game's last six goals scored by Loyola in Saturday's 12-9 defeat of Denver. Held scoreless to that point on six shots, Eric Lusby broke through with a pair of unassisted goals in the final 20 minutes, while Nikko Pontrelli, Justin Ward and Mike Sawyer tacked on one apiece to keep the Greyhounds' unbeaten season alive.

4 – One-goal games played by Lehigh in 2012, including Saturday's 9-8 nailbiter against Bucknell. Interestingly enough, the Mountain Hawks have still managed to outscore their opponents by a composite margin of plus-44 (123-79).

3 – Times this weekend I asked myself about Maryland's fascination with and affection for its state flag, much like Lacrosse Magazine editor Matt DaSilva. Why? But then, I thought, the Terps' PRIDE uniforms were pretty awesome. (As were the Johns Hopkins' throwbacks.)

2 – Fouls called in the Maryland-Hopkins game Saturday night, both of which went against the Terrapins. From this vantage point, it was a relatively clean game, but the officials did a good job of letting the teams play.

1 – Split decision on which team should rank as the nation's No. 1. After Virginia and Johns Hopkins lost, the question was asked: Who's the new top-ranked team? Well, both UMass and Loyola, apparently. The Minutemen and Greyhounds received 193 points each in the latest United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) coaches' poll.

*****

Good day, and good lacrosse.


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