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March 9, 2010

UnCensered: Jessie Spano Can't Touch These Tigers

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Loving the new-look Princeton offense -- Scott Mackenzie was the OT hero Saturday -- LMO's Joel Censer has the Tigers as his No. 2 team.

© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

When Lacrosse Magazine asked me to blog for their Web site, I was surprised. I mean, who knew a job market existed for a washed-up Division III player who overdosed on LaxPower message boards as a teenager? But I guess I’ll take victories where I can (and yes, "Hot Tub Time Machine" is a small victory).

Anyway, I’m ecstatic to cover lacrosse. It’s a wonderful sport filled with characters, drama and intrigue, and it’s drastically underreported. Where is the hard-hitting Edward R. Murrow-like feature asking why attackmen who can dodge a pole are such an anomaly these days? Or why the recruiting calendar keeps getting pushed earlier and earlier? Or how the explosive, new-look Princeton offense, which has been transformed by new coach Chris Bates, can be compared to Elizabeth Berkley post-"Saved by the Bell?"

I mean these are serious questions that need examining, and hopefully I’ll get the chance to do so sooner rather than later.

This past week was definitely a nice early-season benchmark for our sport. Inside Lacrosse’s Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic drew around 20,000 to Baltimore to watch Maryland beat preseason darling Duke 11-10 in overtime, Princeton defeat Hopkins 11-10 in overtime, and Notre Dame put down a pesky Loyola squad 11-9.

A day later No. 1-ranked Syracuse and No. 2 Virginia brought together 7,500 in Charlottesville to watch the Cavaliers beat the Orange in another 11-10 thriller. Additionally, four of the games (UVA v. ‘Cuse, UMD v. Duke, JHU v. Princeton, and Navy v. Bucknell) drew national TV broadcasts.

The phenomenon continues. Here are some questions and subsequent reactions to what I saw this weekend.

Should Syracuse be worried?

On  paper, no. The Orange lost to Virginia by a goal in a road game 500 miles away from the Dome, where they played without their top cover defenseman John Lade.

But offensively, I thought they were exposed. Their first non-extra man offense tally came with eight seconds left in third quarter. And I like Jovan Miller, but he’s more Jarrett Park than Steven Brooks. I think it’s a good thing if he’s your first d-middie and plays on the second line. I don’t think you want him as your primary dodger.

I also thought it was fascinating that at the end of the game when the Orange needed a goal, they put freshmen JoJo Marasco and fourth attackman Tim Desko behind  to feed one of their four best players coming off a screen in front of the goal. What that tells me is that right now, when ‘Cuse needs one, coach John Desko trusts its off-ball play more than any single player.

I think the best solution to get the defense moving would maybe be to run some two-man games behind with senior attackmen Cody Jamieson and Chris Daniello (although I realize this is a bit difficult considering Jamieson might as well be allergic to putting his stick in his right hand).

Still, despite not having a clear initiator on the offense, I’m not ready to count out the Orange -- a team which tends to work out offensive kinks by the playoffs.

Is UVA the best team in the country?

I think so.  They are winning faceoffs with Ryan Benincasa (60 percent), and I like the young guns at attack. Plus, they have something no other team has: two midfielders in the Brattons (once Shamel gets healthy and learns to move the rock a little faster) who demand double-teams every time they touch the ball.

Also, I have to give credit to the Cavalier defense.  They’ve responded after catching some offseason flak for not being physical enough last year. Both long pole Bray Malphrus and Ryan Nizolek are playing with nasty streaks, and finger-stache aside, Ken Clausen is the best takeaway guy in the country.

Do I trust the Maryland attack?

OK, I admit the Maryland attack has been good so far this year. Really good.

Grant Catalino pumped in five goals against the Dukies, Will Yeatman put the Terps on his sizable back in a come-from-behind 15-13 win over Georgetown a week ago, and quarterback Ryan Young has two goals and seven assists over three games while table setting from X.

Honestly though, I’m still not completely sold and am more inclined to give credit for the offensive explosions to coach Dave Cottle. He’s utilizing Catalino (who despite his 6-foot-5, 230-pound frame is not a great ball carrier and has a penchant for costly turnovers) the right way: putting him at the point in transition and getting him the ball on man-down and on-ball reversals where he can set his feet and uncork.

The same can be said for Yeatman who looks more comfortable being run out of the box where he can dodge and then leave Catalino, Young and finishers Travis Reed and Joe Cummings to do a lot of the heavy lifting in unsettled situations.

My question then about the Terps: will they able to generate enough goals in six-on-six settled offense when they aren’t getting opportunities in transition (a big if; rope Brian Farrell has been outstanding starting the break) and when the opposing team isn’t fouling (the Terps are finishing EMO’s at an absurd 72-percent clip)?

In these regards, the jury’s still out.

Odds and Odds
• I love Maryland sophomore midfielder Jesse Bernhardt’s game.  The Orlando native runs on the first line and faces off and is fearless. He will crack anyone and plays with a chip on his shoulder the size of a Florida orange.
• Man, it looks pretty when UVA midfielder Brian Carroll shoots. Reminds me of Ray Allen’s outside stroke.
• I know Duke is struggling a bit, but they’ve really perfected the skip pass, huh?
• Princeton’s my No. 2. I love the McBride cousins on attack. Freshman middie Jeff Froccaro is a stud, and the defense will only continue to improve once Chad Wiedmaier returns from injury and goalie Tyler Fiorito starts making a couple more saves.


Joel Censer is a 2008 graduate of Haverford College, where he was starting defenseman and helped lead the Fords to the second round of the NCAA Division III tournament. He loves lax and has something of a man crush on Georgetown midfielder Chris Schuville. Check LMO each week for more "UnCensered" musings.


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