Drexel Has Right Stuff to Make Run
by Gary Lambrecht | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online
Drexel attackmen Scott Perri (pictured) and Robert Church combined for 54 goals and 28 assists last year.
Looking at the Division I men's lacrosse landscape, it's easy to see the usual suspects playing roles in the NCAA tournament's Memorial Day weekend. How would anyone with adequate knowledge of the game not see some of the big boys coming? How would they not figure on bluebloods such as Syracuse and Virginia sharing the final four stage?
Part of the fun in February is trying to see the invisible train coming, the team that will defy so-so expectations and land in the season's last weekend as a major surprise. The encroaching parity in the game pretty much dictates that someone unexpected will go on a late-season roll, pull off an upset or two in the postseason, and end up blowing up the tournament bracket.
History says it probably will happen this spring.
There was unseeded Massachusetts ending up in the 2006 title game. Unseeded Delaware started its stunning final four run in 2007 by destroying defending champion Virginia in the first round. A year ago, Notre Dame, playing stifling defense and riding goalie Scott Rodgers, knocked off higher-seeded Maryland and Cornell, and pushed Duke into overtime before falling in the championship game. How many people remember Notre Dame lost seven games, went 2-4 in the Big East and was the highly controversial "last team in" on selection Sunday?
Who's it going to be in 2011? Stony Brook isn't exactly a secret anymore. Hofstra is loaded with scoring options and experience. Maybe it's Army, which should not be dismissed from the postseason discussion, even after the Black Knights dropped a surprising season opener to UMass. Maybe it's Denver, behind a terrific attack unit and second-year coach Bill Tierney, who has devised a few good game plans in May in his time.
For now, we'll take a stab at the Drexel Dragons. Under second-year coach Brian Voelker, Drexel has the right stuff, starting with a proven defense led by 6-foot-2 junior goalkeeper Mark Manos, who intimidates with his stick work and his 270-pound presence in the net. Attackmen Robert Church and Scott Perri combined for 54 goals and 28 assists last year.
"[Drexel] has the formula," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, whose second-ranked Cavaliers open the season Saturday against the visiting Dragons, who upset Virginia in 2007. "They've got a pair of 40-point scorers [Church and Perri], some all-conference defenders and a great goalie.
"One of these [unexpected] teams is going to bust through and get to the final weekend. You almost have to assume it. The one thing you can predict is that something unpredictable is going to happen."
'Smell the roses,' Starsia tells players
Starsia is trying to guide Virginia to its first crown since 2006, and he has been preaching a message to his players, especially his small and superb senior class, led by midfielders Shamel and Rhamel Bratton and goalie Adam Ghitelman.
Don't get so caught up in winning it all. Work harder than ever, but enjoy your final season at Virginia in one-day compartments.
"I've got to keep an eye on their emotional state," Starsia said. "Sometimes seniors in their position can let things get to them, like having a bad day at practice or not finishing a drill the right way. If you think [winning a title] is a way to prove your self-worth, you're missing something. Smell the roses. Take care of this moment, then the next moment. Take the season in small doses."
It's hard not to envision the Cavaliers in the thick of the championship scrum, despite being relatively inexperienced at the defensive end. On paper, no one has the offensive weapons Virginia has, from the Brattons to attackmen Steele Stanwick and Chris Bocklet. It's why coaches pegged the Cavaliers with the top ranking in the preseason United States Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association (USILA) Division I preseason poll.
The seniors have produced a 45-9 record and three consecutive trips to the tournament semifinals.
Shay now the Ivy's elder statesman
The Ivy League, after sliding deep in mediocrity in the 1990s – Princeton being the exception under then-coach Bill Tierney – has dug its way back to prominence in the past decade. No one will be shocked if three of the league's seven schools push their way into the NCAA tournament.
But a strange thing has happened in the coaching ranks. The Ivy League has become very young. Over the past two years, Tierney has moved on to Denver. Jeff Tambroni left Cornell for Penn State, and John Tillman cut short his promising rebuilding effort at Harvard to take the job at Maryland.
The dean among the league's coaches is now Yale's Andy Shay, who in seven previous years guided the Bulldogs to a 45-49 record, including a 10-4 finish and a share of the Ivy crown in 2010. Brown's Lars Tiffany, entering his fifth season, is the league's second-most tenured coach.