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Blue Devils Out For Redemption In Lacrosse Final Four

May 22, 2007

By Mathew Schlissel 

After having last season cancelled, the Duke Blue Devils still made it to this year’s semifinals. With a 16-2 season, Duke has gone from being on the hot seat to being media darlings.

Duke's Matt Danowski has 91 points (42 goals, 49 assists) heading into this weekend's NCAA Final Four.  (Courtesy of Duke Athletics)
Duke faces fourth-seeded Cornell Saturday, while Johns Hopkins meets upstart Delaware. The Big Red (15-0), unhappy with their fourth-place ranking after going undefeated, pose a major threat. Led by coach Jeff Tambroni, Cornell is making its first trip to the NCAA semifinals since 1988. 

None of last year’s contenders (Maryland, Virginia, Syracuse and UMass) made it to this year’s Final Four. Three coaches will make their first-ever appearances -- Tambroni, Delaware's Bob Shillinglaw and Duke's John Danowski.

In the first game at noon on Saturday, unseeded Delaware (13-5) takes on No. 3 Johns Hopkins (11-4). Delaware has several Baltimore natives on the roster, including face-off master Alex Smith (Boys’ Latin) and senior midfielder Dan Deckelbaum (Owings Mills).

Smith has won nearly 74 percent of his draws and also was named the Colonial Athletic Association Player of the Year. He is a lock to be named to the Division I All-American team.

Deckelbaum is a blue-collar, athletic midfielder who tallied three goals and an assist in the Blue Hens' 10-6 triumph over UMBC in the quarterfinals at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium last Sunday. He comes into this weekend with 26 goals, good for second on the team.

Deckelbaum has help from a gifted senior middie hailing from Surrey, British Columbia. Jordan Hall, who had three goals against UMBC, has 26 goals on the season and is second on the team with 37 points. 

Senior Adam Zuder-Havens leads the Hens' attack. He played his junior college ball at Herkimer and has 35 goals and 46 points on the season. On defense, senior Rob Smith is as sturdy as they come and one of the strongest players in the nation.

The key for the Blue Hens will be the play of senior goaltender Tommy Scherr, a graduate of Mount St. Joseph. Scherr has a 58 percent save record. 

If the Hens have a major weakness, it's on extra-man opportunities, as they have only converted 21 percent. However, they are outstanding on man-down defense, allowing just 18 percent.

Johns Hopkins would love to face Duke again in the finals for a chance to avenge an 11-9 regular season loss at home. However, Cornell also would make for an interesting match-up since Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala spent three seasons coaching the Big Red.

The Blue Jays had some rough spots in the 2006 season but are peaking at the right time, winning seven straight after losing to Duke April 7. The most impressive of those wins came last Saturday in the quarterfinals at Princeton, where the Blue Jays completely dismantled a solid Georgetown team, 14-6. 

Junior Kevin Huntley, who had struggled most of the season, had a field day, scoring five goals on nine shots. Huntley's shooting percentage for the season has been just 23.5 percent, but if the attackman has his confidence back, Hopkins will be tough to beat.

The Blue Jays are deep and talented offensively, one of the reasons they are in their 27th national semifinal and fifth appearance in the last six years. It all starts at the top with junior Paul Rabil, one of the nation’s best midfielders who has a great combination of power and speed. Rabil leads the team in scoring with 25 goals and also has 21 assists.

The Blue Jays also have two great freshmen attackman who could be the x-factors this weekend. Steven Boyle, an attackman from New Hampshire, is second on the team in points with 35 (22 goals, 13 assists), while Michael Kimmel has 20 goals from the midfield spot.

On defense, senior Eric Zerrlaut is returning from an ACL injury, but managed to play all 15 games and picked up 29 ground balls.

The Blue Jay defense is anchored by senior goaltender Jesse Schwartzman, who hasn't had a great year, but has come through in the clutch nearly every time. More importantly, he has won a championship (as a sophomore), so he knows how to get it done in front of big crowds. Schwartzman has a 56 percent save percentage this season.

The key will be how Hopkins handles Delaware's Smith on face-offs. The Blue Jays have won just 52 percent of their face-offs, with Stephen Peyser (94-of-169) having a little more success than Jamison Koesterer (68-of-138).

Cornell is a great story. To get to the Final Four, the Big Red had to defeat a pesky Albany team in arguably the most entertaining and captivating playoff game so far. It took a John Glynn goal with 4.8 seconds left in the first overtime to lift Cornell over Albany, 12-11, last Saturday at Princeton Stadium.

Cornell's high-powered offense, averaging nearly 14 goals per game, is led by sophomore Max Seibald, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist. Seibald has been hampered by a foot injury suffered against Towson, but still managed two goals and two assists against Albany. The midfielder has 17 goals and 19 assists on the season and can dodge as well as feed. He should be mostly healed by Saturday. 

On attack, the Big Red can match anybody's top three in the nation. Senior David Mitchell leads the team in goals with 43 and is second in points (52). Senior attackman Eric Pittard leads the team in scoring with 32 goals and has 29 assists. He also made the game-winning pass to Glynn in the Albany game. Glynn is a feisty junior on the first midfield, who has 23 goals and 22 assists. 

On defense, the Big Red has been sturdy, allowing fewer than seven goals per game. One of their top close defenders is local product Mitch Belisle out of Severna Park High School.

Cornell has been inconsistent on face-offs, winning just 49.9 percent. Sophomore Tommy Schmicker is the top face-off guy, winning 53 percent (140-of-264) of his draws.

 The key will be the goalkeepers’ play and the Big Red have one of the best, if not the best in the nation, in senior All-American Matt McMonagle, out of Bryn Mawr, Pa. McMonagle has a sterling save percentage of 62.8 percent and has allowed just 6.69 goals per game.

Duke (16-2) sat out last year's NCAA semifinal in a year in which many expected the Blue Devils to compete with Virginia for the national title. At this time last year, Danowski was recovering from a heartbreaking loss to UMass in the quarterfinals at Stony Brook, as his Hofstra squad blew a five-goal lead in the fourth quarter and wound up losing 11-10 in overtime.

Danowski took the Duke job after 21 years at Hofstra and had plenty of familiarity with the team's star attackman, his son Matt Danowski. The senior, who leads the NCAA in points, is favored to win the Tewaaraton Trophy.

In just two tournament games, Danowski has 19 points, including 10 against North Carolina, as the Blue Devils came back from a 6-1 deficit to defeat the Tar Heels, 19-11, last Sunday at Navy-Marine Corps Stadium.

Danowski, who has accumulated 91 points (42 goals, 49 assists), is more than just a feeder. He has size, quickness and is a strong shooter, though not always accurate (24 percent).

One player who is accurate is Zack Greer, the nation's leading goal-scorer with 64 on the season. Against North Carolina, the junior lefty from Ontario had seven goals, the second-most in NCAA quarterfinals history. Greer is the nation's top finisher, making 53 percent of his shots.

While the Danowki-Greer duo is not only the top scoring duo in the nation but one of the greatest of all time, the Blue Devils have other talented players who can put the ball in the net. Sophomore midfielder Ned Crotty has 20 goals on the season, while freshman Max Quinzani has 22. 

The Blue Devils are average on face-offs, winning around 50 percent for the season. Freshman midfielder Terrence Molinari helped turned the game around after UNC's Shane Walterhoefer dominated early. Molinari won 11 of 18 draws and had won 65.6 percent coming into the game, though he has only faced off just 50 times this year. Dan Oppedisano, who had a tough day against the Tar Heels, winning just one of six draws, has won around 54 percent for the season.

In goal, senior Dan Loftus also struggled early, but came up with nine saves against UNC. He has a 63 percent save percentage and has allowed around seven goals per game.

Cornell can't give Duke too many man-up opportunities, because the Blue Devils scored on 3-of-4 EMOs last Sunday and are averaging around 35 percent this year, while allowing just 18 percent on man-down.

Issue 2.21: May 24, 2007