March 6, 2014

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McAnaney: Notre Dame-Denver Rivalry Heads Farther West

By Eamon McAnaney | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Denver and Notre Dame renew their rivalry at California's Pacific Coast Lacrosse Shootout on Saturday. (Marc Piscotti)

Editor's Note: Lacrosse Magazine welcomed ESPN lacrosse announcer Eamon McAnaney to its stable of contributors earlier this week with his debut Top 20. Look for more from McAnaney, a sports broadcasting veteran and former Notre Dame lacrosse captain, throughout the college season here at LaxMagazine.com. For a list of upcoming ESPN and other lacrosse broadcasts, visit LaxMagazine.com/TV.

With Notre Dame jumping into the epically-loaded ACC and Denver moving into the Big East there was a fear that the rivalry between the only two programs west of Pennsylvania to ever appear in championship weekend would come to an end. Instead, the Pioneers and Irish are taking the show on the road to the way, way west as the headline act of the inaugural Pacific Coast Lacrosse shootout.

"Why wouldn't we keep playing?" Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan said. "It's a great thing for the sport to have the two best teams in the West keep playing. We understand the challenges of having a program where it's tough to get people to come play you so we're going to find ways to play them."

While the Irish and Pioneers are looking forward to escaping brutal winters and playing in 80 degrees and sunshine, they could also be playing in front of nearly 6,000 fans at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa, Calif.

"The response has been great," said the event's executive director, G.W. Mix, whose sons, Ryan and Casey, play for Notre Dame and UC Santa Barbara, respectively (UCSB will play Loyola Marymount in an MCLA game at OCC after Notre Dame-Denver).

"Lacrosse has exploded in Orange County and the programs in the area know what an opportunity this is," Mix said. "Sure they can learn by watching on TV, but growing up in Baltimore I learned the game by going and seeing Hofstra-Johns Hopkins, North Carolina-Maryland in person. Now these kids have the chance to see the game at the highest level and it is right in their backyard. It's really pretty special."

And the fans will be treated to much more than a novelty act. The last three meetings have been one-goal decisions won by Notre Dame, and in 2012 it went three overtimes while last year had bonus lacrosse as well. Corrigan isn't expecting anything different in California.

"The challenge in facing Denver is the same it has always been," Corrigan said. "They have incredibly skilled players that are efficient in a unique system."

Albany-UMass a Statement Game

UMass has been the early surprise of the season going from unranked in the preseason into the top 15. The Minutemen have a chance to solidify that ranking with a home win on Saturday over No. 17 Albany.

"UMass is doing what Greg [Canella] always preaches and that's play the game really hard and play with emotion," Albany Coach Scott Marr said. "I think this has become the biggest and best rivalry on our schedule because we're very similar and we're both blue-collar programs."

Even though Albany is the clear favorite to win the America East AQ and has resume building opportunities with Bryant, Penn State and Johns Hopkins on the schedule, Marr is moving a bunch of his chips into the middle of the table for this one.

"I do approach it as huge game," he said. "We want to flip the coin from the Syracuse loss and the Drexel loss so I do not underestimate this game at all. Also, quite honestly two years ago we went there and they smacked us [17-7]. We did not compete at a high level two years ago and we want to prove to ourselves that we're better than that."

Drexel-Bryant a Contrast of Styles

Getting into the NCAA tournament is one thing, avoiding being part of the "first four" play-in games is also a motivating factor and that will be an underlying storyline when Bryant hosts No. 16 Drexel. The Dragons have quality wins over Albany and St. John's but those are off-set by coming up just short against Virginia and Villanova.

"Those one-goal losses haunt you a little bit so this one is going to be huge," said Drexel head coach Brian Voelker.

The conversation with Bryant always begins at the faceoff X with Kevin Massa but Nick Saputo neutralized him last year in Philadelphia when the Dragons rolled 11-5. Saputo continues to play a big role for Voelker this year. "Nick was a big key (22-for-30) in our St. John's win [on Tuesday] and I think he is as good as anybody," Voelker said, "but Massa is definitely a challenge."

While the Bulldogs and Dragons have developed a tightly-contested rivalry, Bryant head coach Mike Pressler says it is a contrast in styles.

"If it's in the teens, it favors them. If it's in single-digits, it benefits us," he said. "They have three elite scorers [Cole Shafer, Nick Triziano and Ben McIntosh] and they run. They are fun to watch."

While Drexel has been able to reach double-figures in all five contests they will be facing a locked in goalie in Bryant's Gunnar Waldt.

"In four games he has been our most consistent player," Pressler said. "He's over 66 percent save percentage and he's made double-digit saves in every game. We need to play well down the middle and we need great goalie play."

Princeton-North Carolina an Expected Track Meet

Friday's Princeton-UNC game could involve a lot of firepower when you consider last year's 16-15 barn-burner. (Peyton Williams)

In a sport that has seen only nine different schools win national championships it's hard to believe that two games between four programs that have combined to win 18 titles can fly under the radar. But I think that's the case this weekend with two ACC-Ivy League showdowns as Princeton and Cornell host North Carolina and Virginia.

Last year the Tar Heels and Tigers played a classic with North Carolina winning 16-15 in Chapel Hill. Chad Tutton scored the game-winner with three seconds left in regulation and all indications are we can be in store for a sequel Friday night in New Jersey.

"We both like to get up and down the field," North Carolina coach Joe Breschi said. "I mean last year they took 56 shots, we took 43. They are a transition team, we are a transition team. Both teams complement each other. We both like to play fast."

Johns Hopkins was able to limit the Tigers to nine goals last week in the Blue Jays' road win but Breschi doesn't see too many weaknesses in Chris Bates' offensive unit. "It's a huge challenge," Breschi said. "I think all of them can bring it. It's a lot of guys who can finish and can shoot it with great range."

Pannell's Helping Hand

Reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Rob Pannell sent his younger brother James an email last week before James and Virginia played Syracuse.

"It was pretty long but there were three main points," Rob told me. "I told him to be less predictable with his shooting, he needed to put the stick in his left hand and he needed to be more aggressive."

James responded by scoring seven goals in leading the Cavs to a 17-12 win and impressing his big brother.

"I really believe he can be a top-five player," Rob said. "That game was one of the greatest shooting performances I've ever seen. Not just that he was 7-for-12 but the variety with which he scored was awesome."

Some pretty close to Rob might not be too excited about that email exchange since the Cavs now travel to Ithaca to take on the alma mater Saturday.

"I am wearing red but maybe a little orange somewhere," Rob said. "I am rooting for James to have a big game but those guys on the Cornell team are my best friends. My heart lies with my family but I am torn."


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