June 7, 2012

The Midfielder: The Best From 30 Games Covered

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter | All-Forman Team

Jeremy Noble's 10-point night against North Carolina in the NCAA tournament first round was the best individual performance Matt Forman saw all season.
© Gray Quetti

Another college lacrosse season has come and gone, and you’re already peeking ahead to 2013: Who’s graduating? Who’s back for another year (or applying for another year of eligibility)? Who’s going to take a step forward? Who’s transferring? All good questions that will have to carry you over until fall ball starts in a couple months.

But before we look at next year — our 2013 look-ahead rankings will debut next week — let’s reflect on the season that was…

Just like everyone predicted in February, Loyola and Maryland played for the national championship, while Peter Baum won the Tewaaraton Award by edging out a field that included Steele Stanwick but not Rob Pannell.

Seriously, though, throughout the unpredictable spring The Midfielder did its best to bring the game to you, or you to the game: to the sidelines, the press conferences, the behind-the-scenes conversations and the chalkboard for X’s and O’s. Thank you for making The Midfielder part of your Monday Morning (most times) reading.

Over the last three months, The Midfielder covered for LaxMagazine.com 30 games — a total that does not include attending several as a fan, and watching many on TV — and had a blast doing so. Those same-day, multi-game events — like the Face-Off and Big City Classic, the NCAA tournament quarterfinals and semifinals — helped crank up the coverage counter. Meanwhile, The Midfielder rolled up several thousand miles on the ol’ odometer, while developing an unhealthy attraction to Charlottesville.

It was our pleasure. Just hope you enjoyed it as much as we did.

So what were the highlights and lowlights of 2012? These are the games and moments that stand out to The Midfielder, from the 30 games covered this spring…

Best Game

Johns Hopkins 11, Virginia 10 (OT), March 24

It was billed as the national title preview in March, and it certainly lived up to expectations. Even if Johns Hopkins and Virginia were both eliminated in the NCAA tournament quarterfinals, this Charlottesville classic featuring the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 teams is one I’ll never forget.

From my game story: Every cliché would be fitting to describe this one: It was a back-and-forth, up-and-down, knockdown, drag-out thriller. "It felt like a playoff game, a playoff atmosphere," Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said.

The tension in the air before the start was palpable, with nearly 7,000 fans filling Klockner Stadium. The soggy and slick conditions that slowed the pace in the first half made way for a sunny, sweltering second half that resulted in an frenetic tempo.

In overtime, Westchester freight train John Ranagan, who struggled shooting most of the afternoon, rumbled down the left alley, got back to the inside and fired a high-to-low bounce shot that went five-hole on Rob Fortunato to give Hopkins a 11-10 win.

Hopkins snapped its third streak in three weeks, beating Virginia in Klockner for the first time since 1988, after ending similar skids against Syracuse and Princeton. "That's how you end that trend,” coach Dave Pietramala said after the game. “You win."

There were plenty of takeaways from the game, but the most important one might have been overlooked: It was only March. There was so much hype, so much build-up, so many expectations, but the season was still young. From that point on, the Cavaliers went 4-3 and the Blue Jays went 4-4.

That same day, Loyola quietly beat UMBC 13-5 and Maryland lost to North Carolina 11-10.

Honorable Mentions:

Johns Hopkins 10, Loyola 9 (OT), April 28

Loyola finished its Cinderella season one clanked pipe short of undefeated. The Greyhounds roared from behind to draw even with 5 seconds left after trailing the whole way. Eric Lusby hit the left post on Loyola’s first possession of the extra session, and Rob Guida won it in overtime for Charles Street rival Johns Hopkins. The game wasn’t broadcast on TV, but Loyola’s Ridley Athletic Complex was hopping. It was arguably the best gameday atmosphere of the whole season.

Denver 16, North Carolina 14, NCAA tournament first round, May 12

Neither team could stop the other, and as expected, the game turned into a track meet at North Carolina’s Fetzer Field. The Tar Heels’ Marcus Holman scored six goals and dished out two assists, but it wasn’t enough. Denver’s Jeremy Noble tallied a hat trick and handed out seven helpers. The frenetic, up-and-down pace of play made this one a doozy.

Best Upset

St. John’s 8, Notre Dame 7, May 3

I’ll admit it: The idea of a St. John’s-Notre Dame rematch — a game I covered a month earlier at the Big City Classic that the Irish won 13-6 — was not the most appealing. How wrong I was.

This was a different St. John’s team, one that legitimately saw an opportunity to make the NCAA tournament. And it would be hard to call Notre Dame complacent, but it didn’t exactly have to worry about its postseason livelihood in its third trip of the season to the greater Philadelphia area.

Kieran McArdle scored three goals and handed out four helpers to give St. John’s an 8-3 lead through three quarters, and the Red Storm held off a furious fourth-quarter rally. In the process, the Johnnies sent shockwaves across the college lacrosse landscape, just two days before Selection Sunday. They made the NCAA tournament bubble that much tighter. The impact? The Big East became a two-bid league, while Penn State and Fairfield were pushed out.

Coach Jason Miller’s confidence still stands out. “We were prepared to be here until Saturday,” he said, after playing that Thursday night’s game. “I don’t think our guys are the least bit intimidated coming into this environment and playing these teams. They all understood that we were going to be competitive this weekend, and if we could find a way to put it together for 60 minutes, we’d have every opportunity to win. It wasn’t me trying to be a coach and say, ‘Hey, pack for Saturday’ to get them in the right mental frame. We came here expecting to win. We needed to be packed until Saturday.”

Honorable Mention: North Carolina 13, Johns Hopkins 9, Big City Classic, April 1

One week after Johns Hopkins beat No. 1 Virginia to earn the top spot in the rankings, it was dominated by North Carolina in East Rutherford, N.J. Funny thing is, the Tar Heels had to play the nation’s new top-ranked team the following week: Virginia, which beat them 15-10.

Short-stick defensive midfielder Josh Hawkins was still recovering from a lower back injury when Loyola beat Towson 13-6 on Feb. 25. The Greyhounds' offense shined, out-shooting Towson 39-14 through three quarters.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Most Telling Performance

Loyola 13, Towson 6, Feb. 25

It would be a stretch to say I saw Loyola winning the national championship when the Greyhounds beat visiting Towson way back in late February, but the performance certainly was a sign of things to come. As coach Charley Toomey later joked, “Greyhounds like to run, right?” Indeed. It showed against Towson, and they did all year.

The Hounds jumped out to a 12-4 lead through three quarters, out-shooting Towson 39-14 to that point. “I was a little caught off guard myself by the speed of our play offensively,” Toomey said after the game. “We came out with guns-a-blazing on the offensive end. … In years past, you might have scratched your head and hoped, ‘Can we get to 30 shots today?’ We’ve proven, and it started this fall, that we can get to 25 shots in a quarter this year. That’s exciting. We certainly have tried to play a little bit faster this year. We feel like we’ve got a team that can move the ball in transition this year.”

And as good as Loyola looked that blustery Saturday in north Baltimore, there were plenty of pieces that still had to fall into place. Fifth-year senior Eric Lusby was a little rusty, shooting 1-for-9 against Towson, while junior transfer Sean O’Sullivan scored four of his 16 goals for the season. Lusby ended the season as the team’s leading scorer, and O’Sullivan became more of a dodger, though he always was a threat to sting it.

Short-stick defensive middie Josh Hawkins was still recovering from a lower back injury, and goalie Jack Runkel played 6:07 of relief duty. Hawkins’ crosscheck of doom debuted against Duke three weeks later, and Runkel solidified his spot as the starter between the pipes on the same day.

So could we have crowned Loyola champions in February? Probably not. But there was a lot to like. As I wrote at the time: “Loyola is dangerous. …  Scary. … Part of Loyola reaching its ultimate potential relates to being fully healthy.”

Honorable Mention: Maryland 10, Duke 7, March 3

In the ACC opener, Maryland freshman defenseman Goran Murray held fellow Philadelphia native and Duke star attackman Jordan Wolf to just one assist, as the Terrapins won at Byrd Stadium. It was a good sign for Maryland’s young defense, which was replacing all three starters at close. Duke beat Maryland in the ACC Tournament, but the Terps topped the Blue Devils in the NCAA semifinals. Murray held Wolf to no goals and four assists combined in the three meetings.

Best Individual Performance

Jeremy Noble, North Carolina vs. Denver, May 12

Sophomore midfielder Jeremy Noble set a single-game program-record with 10 points on three goals in seven assists as Denver threw an array of offensive looks at North Carolina in the first-round upset. Coach Bill Tierney joked he got tired during the practice week listening to the number of sets (17) that offensive coordinator Matt Brown had designed.

Denver won a crazy, up-and-down, game-of-runs, 16-14. Carolina coach Joe Breschi called it a "track meet.” And Noble had a hand in 10 of the Pioneers’ 16 goals, including every score in the second half except Eric Law’s empty-netter as time expired.

“When it's going your way, it's going to go your way,” Noble said after the game. “You're going to get those bounces and stuff like that. And today I just felt very, very confident out there within myself and I have so much confidence within all the players that are on the field at any given time.”

North Carolina had no answer for Denver’s high-octane offense, and especially Noble. The Tar Heels "tried a little bit of everything," Breschi said. "We played zone, we played man, we locked off. At times, we [slid] with the near man and at times we were coming adjacently."

Noble scored 17 of his 46 points in the last three games of the season, saving his best lacrosse for when it mattered most.

I’ll always remember the frenzy in the Fetzer Field press box that evening. Media members trying to keep up with the action while live-blogging, live-Tweeting (lacrosse fans across the country blew up social media outlets), and taking notes … well, their fingers are still sore from the Carpal Tunnel-inducing pace.

Freshman Wells Stanwick got his feet wet early in 2012 with veteran Chris Boland sidelined.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

Rookie Performance of the Year

Wells Stanwick, Johns Hopkins vs. Delaware, Feb. 21

It wasn’t a particularly loud or overwhelming performance and it wasn’t necessarily a sign of things to come, but Wells Stanwick’s first career goal in his first collegiate start stands out.

With sixth-year senior captain Chris Boland sidelined indefinitely with an apparent collarbone injury, Stanwick was thrust into the Blue Jays’ starting lineup. He scored the second goal of the game, giving Hopkins a 2-0 lead in a game it eventually won 8-6. Wells did his best impression of brother Steele, driving from X and sneaking one between the legs of Chris Herbert.

“Chris doesn't play, and the rookie comes out of the game with one goal and two assists against a pretty good team. We'll take it," said Johns Hopkins coach Pietramala, while smiling ear-to-ear. "It's a big day for a freshman in his first start at Johns Hopkins. He lives 50 yards up the road. I'm sure he was nervous, I'm sure he was anxious. He got his feet wet."

Stanwick finished 2012 with nine goals and 14 assists, and it wouldn’t be surprising if he more than doubled those numbers next year.

Coach of the Year

Charley Toomey, Loyola

This title could go to any number of coaches with whom I spent a bunch of time interviewing this spring — John Danowski, Dom Starsia, John Tillman, Joe Breschi, Dave Pietramala — as they were overly accommodating, and understanding of often-silly inquiries.

But if only one coach can take the honor, it has to go to Loyola’s Charley Toomey, and not just because the Greyhounds won the national title. This is more a reflection of Toomey’s attitude. He never appears to be in a bad mood, treating every day like it’s the best of his life. And every time he sees you — or sees anybody, for that matter — it’s like you’re his best friend, or he has known you his whole life.

Best Venue

PPL Park, NCAA quarterfinals

Maybe this is cheating, because it isn’t a true college lacrosse venue, but PPL Park was everything expected and more.

Here’s what I wrote after the quarterfinals, which featured Duke vs. Colgate and Notre Dame vs. Virginia:  “Home to Major League Soccer's Philadelphia Union, the stadium sits along the Delaware River, just underneath the Commodore Barry Bridge, which separates Chester, Pa., from New Jersey. The spacious, open-ended stadium offers stunning views of the water, while Philadelphia's skyline stands in the distance. The overhanging rooftops keep fans mostly in the shade and protected from the elements. And the sightlines are perfect, as the stadium's architecture builds vertically more than horizontally, but isn't too tall.”

The picturesque park likely will garner consideration for future NCAA tournament hosting situations. If downsizing from NFL stadiums in the semifinals and championship is an option, could PPL Park be in the mix? Duke coach John Danowski said the facility was "phenomenal."

"It would be really cool if in Major League Lacrosse, everybody had a facility like that," Danowski said. "It would be great. Great setting, great place. Just getting a chance to walk around it yesterday, I thought it was a big-time facility. Perfect size for our sport. I would imagine if you were a fan, it seemed like perfect sightlines, no bad seats. Just seemed like a great place to enjoy the game."

Honorable Mention: Klockner Stadium, Virginia

Having made four trips to Charlottesville this spring, I got to know my way around Klockner (and up and down Rt. 29) pretty well. The place was packed for games against Johns Hopkins and Duke, and the atmosphere was electric. There are few places in the country that understand and appreciate the nuances of the game more.

Vito DeMola has no problems talking about Dowling's Division II national championship game win over Limestone over Memorial Day weekend.
© Kevin P. Tucker

Best Interview

Vito DeMola, Dowling vs. Limestone, MD2 Championship, May 27

The only appropriate comparison for DeMola’s state after Dowling won the national title: Jim Valvano. Much like Valvano after North Carolina State won the 1983 men’s basketball national championship, DeMola ran around the field like he had no clue what to do, who to grab or where to turn. Complete and utter ecstasy.

"As soon as that buzzer went off, I didn't know what to do,” DeMola said. “I was like, 'Where's our goalie? Where's our faceoff guy? Who do I hug first? Who is kissing me on the cheek?'"

Those emotions carried over into the post-game press conference, and then 1-on-1 interviews in the bowels of Gillette Stadium, and then in the locker room. He was a human quote machine, turning out intelligent, insightful, funny, quirky one-liners for about 20 minutes after the 11-10 victory.

My favorite: “Nothing is better than bringing it back to Long Island because the school is 10 minutes away from my house. I’ll be visiting my trophy probably once a week. Give it a little kiss. Polish it.”

Unsung Heroes: The All-Forman Team

Don't miss it.

*****

Good day, and good lacrosse.


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