|NCAA Lacrosse Tourneys Complete Unpredictable Season|
By Steve Jones
When the college lacrosse season began in mid-February, the top four teams in the men's Division I preseason poll were Duke, Virginia, Johns Hopkins and Cornell. Only Johns Hopkins and Duke entered this month's NCAA tournament as top-four seeds.
It has been that kind of year. Duke lost three of its first six games. Virginia was the top team early, but then came losses to Johns Hopkins and North Carolina, which brought the Cavaliers back to earth.
Johns Hopkins won its first eight games, then absorbed losses during three of its next four before beating Loyola and Army to finish the regular season. Cornell, which played most of the campaign without standout senior Rob Pannell, looked like a No. 1 team, but missed the tournament completely after late-season losses to several Ivy League foes.
Loyola took its turn at the top until the Greyhounds lost their regular-season finale to Johns Hopkins in overtime. Notre Dame looked as if it would be the NCAA tournament's top seed until the Fighting Irish fell to unranked St. John's during the Big East semifinals.
The rash of top-tier upsets propelled a team that wasn't expected to contend for a national championship into the top spot in the NCAA field. Loyola, which posted wins against top 20 teams Duke, Denver (twice), Fairfield (twice) and Ohio State, entered the tournament as the No. 1 seed.
The 14-1 Greyhounds, champions of the Eastern College Athletic Conference, might be the most balanced team in the tournament. Loyola, which hosted Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference titlist Canisius during the first round, had just one loss before the tournament -- to Johns Hopkins in overtime.
"This was the type of environment that you usually see in May [in the NCAA tournament]," Greyhound coach Charley Toomey said after the 10-9 loss to the Blue Jays April 28. "Johns Hopkins played a complete game today."
If second-seeded Johns Hopkins can improve its shooting, the 11-3 Blue Jays have an excellent shot at a Final Four berth. Coach Dave Pietramala's defense has surrendered double-digit goals just once during 14 games, but the offense has to step up for the Blue Jays to make a deep run in their 41st consecutive NCAA tournament. Hopkins opened the tournament against America East champion Stony Brook, one of two NCAA participants with a losing record.
"We need to be shooting at 30 to 33 percent … 25 percent isn't going to cut it," Pietramala said following the win at Loyola. "Today, we had to recognize that we're the same team that won nine games [before Loyola]. We can't be that lucky to win nine games with our schedule."
Maryland is in the tournament for the 10th consecutive year. Coach John Tillman's squad, which faced Lehigh during the opening round, finished the regular season with a 9-5 mark, which included wins against Duke and Johns Hopkins. Considering the numerous graduation losses from last year's NCAA runner-up team, the Terrapins have done well in 2012. Maryland has been competitive in every game.
The 28-team Division III field featured four Maryland schools. Top-ranked Salisbury, which received a first-round bye, and fourth-ranked Stevenson, which hosted Birmingham Southern during a first-round matchup, are perennial tournament participants.
Goucher traveled to Washington College for a first-round matchup. Goucher, champion of the Landmark Conference, entered the NCAA tournament with a 14-game winning streak and a 17-1 record. The resurgent Washington College program went from last place in the 2011 Centennial Conference standings and two losses to start the 2012 season to a regular-season championship. The winner of this intrastate battle got a second-round date with Salisbury.
While top-seeded Salisbury is the lone Maryland school in the Division III women's tournament, four state teams made the 16-team Division I field -- Maryland, Loyola, Towson and Navy.
Coach Sonia LaMonica's Towson Tigers edged James Madison to win their fourth Colonial Athletic Association title during the last seven years, then improved to 16-3 with a play-in game rout of Monmouth. The eighth-seeded Tigers hosted Penn State during their first-round matchup.
"It's where we want to be," said LaMonica, who earned CAA Coach of the Year honors for the second consecutive season. "We want to be highly competitive on the national stage. Our players needed to believe that they could reach that next level. Now that we've had more success, the players believe."
LaMonica credited the contributions of senior goalie Mary Teeters (8.13 goals-against average) and sophomore attacker Andi Raymond (team-leading 33 goals, 33 assists) for the Tigers' return to the tournament.
"Mary steps up and makes great plays," LaMonica said. "She stands out especially in the tight moments of the game. Andi came back in incredible shape and had a new sense of confidence this year. She made great progress from one year to the next."
Cathy Reese's Terrapins went 17-3 and topped Duke and North Carolina to win the ACC championship, earning the third seed and a home game against Massachusetts. Loyola, coached by Jen Adams, pounded fourth-seeded Syracuse to win its second straight Big East championship and earn the sixth seed and a home game versus Penn. Cindy Timchal guided Navy to its third straight Patriot League championship and an overtime win at Oregon during an NCAA play-in game. The Middies opened on the road at North Carolina.
Issue 173: May 2012