March 12, 2012

Monday Midfielder: Stanwick or The Field? And Who's in The Field?

A look at the Tewaaraton Award race minus Rob Pannell

by Matt Forman | LaxMagazine.com Twitter

Is Johns Hopkins' Zach Palmer a legimitate Tewaaraton Award candidate? He stood out the most to Matt Forman during Saturday's Face-Off Classic tripleheader. 
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

I know, I know. The only appropriate column structure for the day after Selection Sunday would involve some kind of bracket. My sincerest apologies. For those of us whose alma maters did not make the Big Dance, it's much easier to stick to lists.

When the Tewaaraton Trophy made an appearance in the press box Saturday at M&T Bank Stadium — the Tewaaraton Foundation's chairman, Jeff Harvey, and executive director, Sarah Aschenbach were on hand — it got us thinking: Who's going to walk across the stage in early June and accept college lacrosse's most prestigious award?

With Cornell's Rob Pannell sidelined indefinitely after suffering an apparent broken foot, did the Tewaaraton Award race get a whole lot more interesting? Or maybe a whole lot less interesting, and is it Steele Stanwick's trophy to lose?

"I wish Rob Pannell the best," Virginia coach Dom Starsia said Saturday. "It hurts our sport that he's not playing. Hopefully he'll get back before it's all said and done."

So we'll pose the question to you, loyal readers of The Monday Midfielder. Who are you taking: Stanwick or the field? And who's in the field?

Let's be honest. If you had to pick a favorite right now, it's Stanwick ... big gap ... everybody else. But acknowledging no player has won the Tewaaraton back-to-back years — Syracuse's Mikey Powell won it twice, non-consecutively, as a sophomore and senior — let's eliminate Stanwick from the conversation, if only for argument's sake, and look at the other top candidates.

But first, a couple things to consider.

1) The Tewaaraton is awarded to the "most outstanding" college lacrosse player, much like college football's Heisman Trophy — operative word being outstanding, for which everyone has a different definition. Not necessarily the most dominant, or the most valuable or the top goal-scorer.

2) The Selection Committee traditionally favors the best player on the best team, or at least the best player on a team playing for the national championship. Everyone thought Pannell would run away with the Tewaaraton last year before Stanwick's 21-point postseason powered Virginia to the title, a run that included an upset of Pannell and Cornell. Only once in 11 years has the winner not played on Memorial Day weekend — that was Hofstra's Doug Shanahan in 2001, the year the inaugural trophy was presented.

3) A defenseman or goalie has never won the award, though they have received recognition as final candidates. Four midfielders and seven attackmen have won the award, and those players have compiled an average season of 36.4 goals and 32.9 assists.

OK, now to the contenders in the field not named Stanwick...

The committee will narrow its extensive watch list to 25 names — the Tewaaraton Nominees — in late April, and they'll name five finalists in late May. We've tried to make their work easier, or at least take a stab at the way things stand in early March.

Leaders in the Clubhouse

The Canadians

Mark Matthews, Denver
Who stands to benefit most from Pannell's injury? The player with the greatest name recognition in the field: Denver senior attackman Mark Matthews, the fourth overall selection in the 2012 MLL Draft, who has registered points in 34 straight games. But Matthews matches his reputation with ridiculous finishing and highlight-reel scoring abilities, and he's recorded 15 goals and seven assists through five games despite facing constant attention. The biggest question facing Matthews: Will Denver's young defense allow the Pioneers to go deep enough in the postseason to let Matthews shine on the biggest stage? After a season-opening loss to Ohio State, Denver has rattled off four straight wins, including Saturday's 14-6 defeat of Penn State.

Zach Palmer, Johns Hopkins
No Chris Boland — and recently, no Wells Stanwick — no problem for Johns Hopkins, which moved to 6-0 with a 12-5 victory over UMBC on Saturday. The reason? Zach Palmer is good. Very good. In fact, of everyone that stepped on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium for the Konica Minolta Face-Off Classic — and there were many talented players, including a gimpy Steele Stanwick — Palmer stood out the most for his field vision and passing ability. Coach Dave Pietramala has been forced to re-tool his offense, and now it works through Palmer, who has 10 goals and 15 assists so far (five and nine without Boland and Stanwick). The Blue Jays' experienced defense in front of goalie Pierce Basset will keep them in every game, and Boland should return in time for the postseason. But Hopkins is about to enter a tough stretch. Its next five games look like this: Syracuse, Virginia, North Carolina, Albany and Maryland. If Palmer plays in the next three weeks, he could really position himself well. Just don't tell Pietramala: "Zach's really done a great job of doing what we've asked him to do, which is his job. Everybody thinks that when Chris goes down and then Wells goes down, Zach has to really pick it up and do a lot more. It's not the case. What he has to do is do his job to the best of his ability, and that's exactly what he's done. He's made really good decisions with the ball, hasn't turned it over a lot. He's been aggressive off the dodge. He's used both hands very well."

The Americans

If there is any Tewaaraton favorite on Virginia, it is Steele Stanwick. But what about the impact Chris Bocklet has for the Cavaliers?
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com 

Chris Bocklet, Virginia 
The leader of the non-Stanwick Virginia contingent, Bocklet is the Cavaliers' leading scorer, having tickled the twine 16 times while handing out seven helpers. He also led Virginia in goals last year with 44. One of the nation's sharpest shooters, Bocklet can pick a corner from 18 yards out without difficulty. Don't forget: Stanwick was sidelined for a portion of the second half of Saturday's 9-8 overtime defeat of Cornell dealing with a bruised hip that he said "affected me a little bit," and nagging injuries forced him to miss practice for an extended period in 2011. Seemingly nothing has slowed Stanwick, but you know ACC opponents are going to throw the kitchen sink at him to slow him down. Bocklet would be the biggest benefactor.

Will Manny, Massachusetts
If you don't know the name Will Manny already, well, you should. Manny makes Massachusetts' magnificent offense — also featuring Kyle Smith, Art Kell, Anthony Biscardi and Colin Fleming — go. Off to a 6-0 start, UMass has cracked the national top 5 and opens its CAA schedule next weekend with a test in Happy Valley. If the Minutemen crash Memorial Day weekend, it'll be hard to ignore Manny. Only 5-foot-9 and 160 pounds, Manny uses his lightning-quick speed to blow past defenders and slip by double-teams. He's converting 60 percent of his shots into goals, tallying 18 goals and 12 assists in six games.

Jordan Wolf, Duke
With Mike Manley, CJ Costabile, Rob Rotanz and Justin Turri — four of the MLL Draft's top nine picks — Duke has more senior star power than any team in the country, but it hasn't translated to the early-season success some predicted. The Blue Devils, who have played in five consecutive final fours, have suffered three losses in their first six games. The strange thing? They've struggled to find an offensive identity, especially in 6-on-6 settings. After Saturday's 13-8 loss to Loyola, Coach John Danowski said for the second straight week that he wanted to see "a little more lacrosse player and a little less athlete." That falls squarely on the shoulders of Jordan Wolf, who leads the team with 16 points (10 goals, six assists) despite not being fully healthy. He went for 31 and 20 last year, and he's capable of getting there again this year, but it won't be easy. Just don't count him out yet.

Barely on the Outside

The Non-Stanwick, Non-Pannell Division: Colin Briggs, Virginia; Steve Mock, Cornell
Briggs, a fifth-year senior and the 2011 NCAA tournament MVP, scored Saturday's game-winner and always seems to be in the right place at the right time. He has 12 goals and nine assists through seven games. Mock lit the lamp twice against Virginia on Saturday, notching his 10th goal of the season, and he will be asked to handle the ball a lot more without Pannell. Still only a sophomore, Mock might start seeing additional defensive attention.

Stone Artists: Niko Amato, Maryland; John Kemp, Notre Dame; Pierce Bassett, Johns Hopkins; Tyler Fiorito, Princeton; Austin Kaut, Penn State
In a race where the two leading candidates are eliminated, for injury or for the sake of argument, why not consider the nation's top goalies? Kemp has an astounding .742 save perctange and directs the nation's best scoring defense at Notre Dame, which allows just four goals per game. If Amato plays another postseason like he did last year, he will immediately be thrust to the top of the Tewaaraton conversation. He has a .633 save percentage. Bassett (.615) and Johns Hopkins are giving up an average of five goals per contest. Fiorito (.432), the 10th overall selection in the MLL Draft, hasn't been himself in the Tigers' back-to-back losses. Kaut (.610) is the centerpiece of the Nittany Lions defense and made 16 saves in an upset of Notre Dame.

Syracuse's Stars: Tim Desko, JoJo Marasco
Did you see Tim Desko's backward, between-the-legs goal against Virginia two weekends ago? If not, check it out. Outrageous goals like that put Desko in the mix. And even though JoJo Marasco has been held to four goals in four games, the Orange can get up-and-down with anyone — including Virginia — and shots will start dropping sooner rather than later. Derek Maltz also deserves a mention.

Loyola's Laser Show: Mike Sawyer, Eric Lusby
The Greyhounds are here, and here to stay. They pronounced it, loud and clear, on Saturday, when Loyola never trailed Duke and ran away with a 13-8 victory. Sawyer has scored a team-leading 18 goals, but Lusby isn't far behind with 15. They score the rock in bunches. Loyola's April 14 matchup with Denver should be a barnburner.

"They were awesome," Duke coach John Danowski said of Loyola's shooters. "Even when we had [third goalie] Mike Rock come in, they were picking corners at will. If they are teaching that at Loyola, then I need to come in and sit in on a meeting. They had great accuracy."

Dark Horse Candidates

The Non-Stanwick, Non-Pannell Division II: Rob Emery, Connor English

The Defensemen: Tucker Durkin, Johns Hopkins; Chad Wiedmaier, Princeton

Stars in a Leading Role: Peter Baum, Colgate; Jack Rice, Villanova; Matt Mackrides, Penn State; Tom Schreiber, Princeton

Curious Carolina: Marcus Holman, Nicky Galasso

The 10 Spot: Stats to Stew

10 – Goals scored by Albany, Hobart, Harvard and Quinnipiac in their weekend losses. Each team managed to crack double-digits but did not emerge victorious. Harvard played the closest of these four contests, falling 11-10 at Georgetown. The Crimson won more faceoffs, took more shots and picked up more ground balls than the Hoyas, but struggled on special teams and lost. Harvard converted only 2-of-7 extra-man opportunities, while Georgetown went 5-for-6.

9 – One-goal games played this weekend, all of which came during Saturday's slate of 24 men's Division I games. Interestingly enough, four of the nail-biters were played to a 9-8 final score. Parity is the name of the game. The biggest blowout? Maryland's 17-4 win over Marist, as the Terps took out their frustration from their midweek loss to UMBC on the Red Foxes.

Will Manny makes UMass' offense go and the Minutemen are ranked third in the country.
© Matt and John Risley

8 – Combined goals scored by UMass' junior class in its 15-4 win over Hartford on Saturday. Colin Fleming led the way with three scores, while Will Manny (2), Kyle Smith (1), Bobby Tyler (1) and defenseman Brett Tobin (1) rounded out the stat sheet. The Minutemen's eight leading scorers are either juniors or seniors; sophomore attackman Connor Mooney is ninth on the team with four assists.

7 – Games it took for Nicky Galasso, North Carolina's star sophomore attackman, to record his first point of any kind; granted, Galasso only played in four of those games. In the first quarter Saturday, Galasso's low-to-high Howitzer beat Fiorito just underneath the crossbar. The All-American underwent surgery in November to repair a left foot fracture and had been slow to get back to action in 2012; Saturday was his first start of the season. "We've kind of eased him back into it," Carolina coach Joe Breschi said.

6 – Quarters in Johns Hopkins last three games that it has held its opponent scoreless. The Blue Jays displayed their dominant defense when they blanked Manhattan, 11-0, last week at Homewood — their first shutout since 1988 — but Hopkins also shut down Princeton in the second quarter and zeroed UMBC in the third on Saturday.

5 – Consecutive victories for Duke over Loyola before the Greyhounds topped the Blue Devils, 13-8, on Saturday. Also, Loyola is off to a perfect 5-0 start for the first time in 10 seasons. "I told my guys that I've been here a lot of years, but there are not as many wins as sweet as that one," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "Hats off to Duke. They are a great offensive team and usually can score at will. But today was our day."

4 – Goals scored by Villanova in its fourth-quarter rally to beat local rival Penn, 8-7, Saturday. After totaling four goals in the game's first 45 minutes, the cardiac Wildcats scored four more in the final 7:30 to cap off the comeback. Max Hart's game-winner from 30-plus yards out came with just one second left in regulation.

3 – Wins against ranked opponents in 2012 for Lehigh, after beating then-No. 15 Yale 11-7 on Saturday. The Mountain Hawks also have posted ranked wins against then-No. 19 Penn and then-No. 4 North Carolina, both of which will likely stand the test of time. "The difference in our five-game [winning streak] is that we've had certain guys step up and make plays, making sure that they don't leave a play out on the field," Lehigh coach Kevin Cassese said. "That's been a major Achilles heel for us. We've talked a lot about it, and they've done a nice job of securing those plays and coming up with the win."

2 – Game-winners scored in 2012 by Notre Dame senior attackman Sean Rogers, who's actually done it in back-to-back weeks. Rogers gave the Fighting Irish a 6-5 win over Hofstra on Saturday, burying the golden goal and capping off his hat trick 1:19 into overtime. Last week he scored the deciding goal with 4:42 left in regulation against Drexel. "It was great to get a win like this today," coach Kevin Corrigan said. "We didn't play well offensively, but we made three plays late in the game when we had to. Sean Rogers made big plays for us. He had chances all day and made them when they counted."

1 – Wins for North Carolina in current NFL venues after Saturday's 9-8 win at M&T Bank Stadium. The Tar Heels entered Saturday 0-5 in contemporary professional facilities — the Tar Heels previously beat Virginia at the old Meadowlands — but snuck out of the Charm City with a 'W' in the Baltimore Ravens' digs. "We've been in a lot of pressure situations, but this is our first NFL stadium win," Breschi said. "So that's a big positive."


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