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May 26, 2010

UnCensered: 'Lost' in Transition to Final Four

by Joel Censer | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online | Censer Archive

With any justice, talk of Hurley next Tuesday should center around Cornell finisher Ryan Hurley, and not the "Lost" character.

© Greg Wall

I don’t know what most people’s Mondays were like, but I woke up to friends peppering me with e-mails and G-chats trying to figure out what had transpired in the "Lost" series finale.

I’m no expert (I did skip season five), but I still seemed to be on some Henry Ford style assembly line for people wanting more answers. Some asked nerdy questions, wanting confirmation that the side-reality really was purgatory and wondering about connections between the two worlds. Others were more interested about making sure I knew I had wasted five-plus years of my life watching the show. Another friend wanted to talk strictly about Kate in that black dress (fine by me).

I personally enjoyed the finale. Did people really expect the producers to answer every question about the island? I mean, this is "Lost." They’ve made a killing by perfecting the cliffhanger and the ambiguous answer. Regardless, the show was entertaining television which

pushed the limits (on network TV, no less) and I thought the last show did a competent job answering enough questions and bringing the story full circle.

Anyway, this coming weekend, with lacrosse fans from all corners descending on Baltimore for championship weekend, I don’t think it’s too much to hope that next Tuesday morning (in real life, not in some parallel dream reality), everyone will want to talk lax instead of "Lost."

If Hurley comes up in conversation this weekend, I’ll assume we’re talking about Cornell senior attackman and Minnesota missile Ryan Hurley -- an athletic, skilled and opportunistic lefthander, who resembles a thick sheet of Honeywell-produced Plexiglas the way he bounces off defenders.

Same goes for “the Island,” which will be the place where the Bratton brothers, Scott Rodgers and Rob Pannell first picked up a wand. (I have a feeling some all-powerful eternal light doesn’t exist in some cave in West Islip.)

And if I hear the name Rodriguez? I hope it’s not going to be about how obnoxious Michelle Rodriguez’s character was in the first two seasons, but instead about how Salisbury keeper Johnny Rodriguez, who has taken a lot of heat his first couple years, has solidified himself as a stalwart in the Sea Gull backline this season.

Here are some questions/random thoughts I have going into championship weekend.

Not all gravy with those fries, eh?

With all the press Canadians -- from Hofstra’s Jay Card and Jamie Lincoln to Jordan Mcbride and Kevin Crowley at Stony Brook to Curtis Dickson at Delaware -- have gotten this season for being able to operate in tight and fill up the back of the net in a hurry, I think it’s important to point out that none of the final four teams have much north-of-the-border Strange Brew influence.

The first rule of Project Mayhem: don't ask questions.

* MD1 Tournament Central
* WD1 Tournament Central

Yes, Ontario native Garrett Ince (although he did prep at the Salisbury School in Connecticut) is part of Virginia’s effective three-man faceoff team, and Cornell midfielder Jonathan Thompson and defenders Jason Noble and Michael Howe are all from Ontario as well. But none of the teams rely on a Canadian scorer or two-man pick games.

I don’t think this says anything negative about the efficiency of Canadian finishers -- or that a team with one will have trouble advancing. Zack Greer (Duke), David Mitchell (Cornell), Garrett Billings (Virginia), Cody Jameison (Syracuse), Stephen Keogh (Syracuse) and Kevin Huntley (Hopkins) — who went to Baltimore’s Calvert Hall but whose slick hands were certainly influenced by his Canadian father —a ll are proof of the opposite. Plus, the best Canadians this year weren’t on the top-flight teams and many, most notably Dickson and Crowley, are more versatile dodging threats than their countrymen (who are usually more instinctive than athletic).

But still, I can’t help but think after Syracuse went out in the first round, and Denver and Stony Brook had trouble scoring serious goals, that teams that live and die by our northern brethren are somewhat limited on offense during playoff lacrosse. Like I’ve said before, in the postseason (when unsettled situations begin to dry up considerably) is when you have to be able generate in the half-field. So, having two or three Canadian box players, who are strictly finishers and are most effective in transition and unsettled situations, may be a bit burdensome when a team is mostly playing six-on-six and needs to have guys beat their man to get things going.

The ax? Really?

Many sports writers who are far more accomplished and talented than I have written that it was unfair for the University of Maryland to fire head coach Dave Cottle, who brought the Terps to the  playoffs almost every year and to three final fours during his tenure as coach.

Moreover, they argue that the Maryland athletic department vastly misjudged the university’s ability to be a real contender year in and year out on the national lacrosse landscape these days.

For what it’s worth, I’m not completely sure who is right. On one hand, I sympathize with Coach Cottle, and can see how Virginia, North Carolina, Duke, Syracuse, Hopkins, Princeton, and even Georgetown and Notre Dame have significant inherent recruiting advantages over the Terps. On D.C. sports radio the other week, Cottle basically conceded as much when he said that he and his staff make a big effort recruiting “toughness.” Reading through the lines, what this meant to me is that they have trouble snagging many blue-chips recruits, and thus have to rely on and target something that could potentially be overlooked and undervalued in the recruiting process (but which might not tailor itself to winning games in May).

Then again, Cornell doesn’t really get stud recruits either (save Max Seibald), and the Big Red has been able to go to three of the past four final fours.

What was I thinking not picking Notre Dame?

Having said all that, as I began watching (and I use the word "watch" loosely) Notre Dame-Maryland on the same camera that was used to film Jim Brown at Manhasset, I realized I deserved to be hit with a nine-iron for picking Maryland.

The Irish were better than the Terps at nearly everything that’s important when it comes to winning a playoff game.

Faceoffs?

Check. Especially when you consider Notre Dame long pole Andrew Irving was an absolute terror on the wings.

Defense?

Check.

Half-field offense?

I wouldn’t call the Notre Dame group explosive, but they certainly had an easier time generating goals and burying their shots than the anemic Terrapin squad.

Against Cornell on Saturday, I’m not really sure about the Irish. Notre Dame and Cornell have comparably stingy defenses, although I’m more apt to trust Notre Dame’s senior goalie Scott Rodgers than Cornell freshman A.J. Fiore. The edge on faceoffs goes to the Big Red -- especially when you factor in long poles Noble and Pierce Derkac on the wing. And Cornell is probably a little more efficient in half-field offense, although Irish midfielders David Earl, Grant Krebs and Zach Brenneman are certainly more threatening than anything Cornell can throw out there.

The thing I think will win the game? Ground balls.

Cornell overwhelmed Army (which is usually great off the ground) last Sunday. If the Big Red players swarm the ball like they usually do and get one of their patented early leads, I think they can get enough possessions and unsettled  situations to overwhelm a Notre Dame squad that isn’t particularly deep and isn’t suited playing from behind.

Either way, if the Irish are going to advance, they are going to need Brenneman to step up and quit his Kevin Bacon "Hollowman" routine. He’s been way too quiet these first two rounds.

Tobacco Road

Frankly, I picked the Tar Heels because I couldn’t get past how badly Carolina dismantled Duke the first time these two teams played. In UNC’s 13-7 victory in March, Tar Heel attackman Billy Bitter dominated his matchup with Duke’s Mike Manley, and the Carolina defense stifled Duke’s offense. (Tar Heel defender Ryan Flanagan had his way with Ned Crotty.)

But last weekend, Bitter was a no-show, Crotty owned Flanagan, and the Blue Devils' stable full of midfielders (Justin Turri and Steve Shoeffel in particular) all came to play in their 17-9 romp. Most important, Duke faceoff men Sam Payton, C.J. Costabile (two goals) and Terrence Molinari were all impressive.

Like Notre Dame-Cornell, I really have no clue who will win the Duke-UVA grudge match. Although I do think it will come down to faceoffs. If Virginia is winning at the "X," I don’t think Duke’s goaltending can match the powerful Wahoo offense. But if Costabile and Payton are winning draws, Parker McKee and Tom Montelli are both running from offense to defense, and Max Quinzani and Crotty are getting to take care of the rest, watch out.

My gut says Duke. My brain says Virginia. That’s why they play the games though.

See you in Baltimore.


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