March 14, 2014

McAnaney: Sport-Defining JHU-'Cuse Rivalry Renews

By Eamon McAnaney | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Syracuse will have its hands full, paying a visit to unbeaten Johns Hopkins on Saturday to renew a rivalry that has seen five NCAA finals in its long history. (Greg Wall)

Editor's Note: Lacrosse Magazine welcomed ESPN lacrosse announcer Eamon McAnaney to its stable of contributors earlier this spring. 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.

Johns Hopkins versus Syracuse is the rivalry that has defined the sport. Not only have the Blue Jays and Orange played each other for the national championship five times, but their regular season meeting has often defined which club is the favorite to win it all. While the growth of the game nationally may have taken that away, the coaches insist the rivalry maintains its importance in different ways.

"It's still a barometer to a point," said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala. "You can still measure yourself by both teams. You can find out right now how far you have come and where you need to go. You could sense a different level of intensity at practice this week."

The Blue Jays are off to a 5-0 start for the second time in three years but sport a new-look offense led by the attack unit of Wells Stanwick, Brandon Benn and Ryan Brown. The trio has combined for 67 of Hopkins' 112 points and the scheme has caught the eye of the Syracuse coaching staff.

"They have changed so much," said Orange head coach John Desko. "I've never seen so much picking. I know we're going to get a heavy dose of big-little's."

While Pietramala feels a little too much is being made about the offense, he does admit it is a change in philosophy.

"If you compare it to basketball, it's similar to a team that traditionally pounded it inside to the big men now becoming more guard-oriented with penetration and shooting 3s," he said. "Before it was more smash-mouth lacrosse, this is a more versatile offense with more motion."

Yale, Cornell Ride Into Ivy Battle With Momentum

Both the Big Red and Bulldogs come into the Ivy League opener with momentum. Cornell stunned Virginia 12-9 in Ithaca last weekend and Yale bounced back from a loss to Fairfield with a dominant 10-2 victory over Lehigh on Tuesday night.

"Fairfield really took it to us so we needed to correct to what went wrong and we did," said head coach Andy Shay. "We communicated better and our D guys were really on their hands. It was a team win."

Cornell took the turf at Schoellkopff Field against Virginia with an edge after the prognosticators made it clear with an uncharacteristically low pre-season ranking (particularly for a returning NCAA semifinalist) that no Rob Pannell and no Ben DeLuca would translate to a long season in Ithaca. 

That win over Virginia means the secret is out, but those in the Ivy League knew the cupboard was still well stocked for new (interim) head coach Matt Kerwick.

"Matt Donovan plays a lot like Rob Pannell and Dan Lintner is doing his best Steve Mock imitation," said Shay. "Some of Rob Pannell's star power might have overshadowed some really good players. They have already shown this year they are as good as they have been."

Rookie goalie Christian Knight made 15 saves in his first career start against Virginia and he will be tested again by the likes of Conrad Oberbeck and Brandon Mangan.

Archrivals Carolina, Duke Expected to Produce Fireworks

The last time these archrivals stepped on the field together, we were treated to a rollercoaster ride of an ACC semifinal with the Tar Heels winning 18-17. I don't see why we should not expect more of the same as UNC is averaging 16.8 goals a game and the defending champion Blue Devils are putting up a little more than 12 a contest.

Despite the gaudy statistics, Joe Breschi is still looking for the right third guy at attack to replace Marcus Holman, the all-time points leader in UNC history. Pat Foster looks to have the inside track to grab that role with 12 goals in six games.

The faceoff game will be a huge key as freshman Stephen Kelly has done a nice job filling in for RG Keenan with the Tar Heels, winning 29 of 44 in back to back victories over Princeton and Bucknell. But Duke and Brendan Fowler are definitely a step up in weight class. The most outstanding player of last year's NCAA tournament has picked up right where he left off, winning 64 percent of his faceoffs.

If Fowler is able to get the ball to Jordan Wolf and company, expect the Heels to mix it up on D by throwing many different looks at the Blue Devils.

"Their attack is the head of the snake," said Breschi. "You have to limit them in early offense and make them play 6-on-6. They are so aggressive and when they click they make it happen, so if you're forcing shots outside of 12, you'll take your chances."

The champs have dominated this rivalry under John Danowski, winning 18 of 21 meetings, but he senses something different about this year's Heels. "Belief. They believe it's their time," he said. "That confidence radiates into a tremendous excitement to play the game."

Chilly Greeting as Virginia Heads to South Bend for New ACC Rivalry 

Dom Starsia and the Cavaliers make the program's maiden voyage to South Bend. The equipment manager better load up the thermal underwear and hand warmers because spring has not yet arrived under the Golden Dome.

Both clubs are looking to bounce back from tough losses (Virginia to Cornell, and Notre Dame to Denver), and while it's only the middle of March we cannot underestimate the importance of opening up 2-0 in ACC play.

"You don't want to get ahead of yourselves," Starsia said. "But we don't have the luxury of thinking it will get easier and we will hit our stride in April. This is a crucible for the coaches and we're all in the same boat. We have to get better now so this is an important game for both teams."

Both teams are looking for better execution on the offensive end and Notre Dame will need to get Matt Kavanagh going. The sophomore All-America candidate is coming off a double bagel against Denver, as poor shooting was a team-wide epidemic against the Pioneers. The Irish outshot Denver 46-29, but were wildly inaccurate. If the Domers can clean that up, it could be a long evening for UVA freshman goalie Matt Barrett.

Don't expect the Irish to get caught up in the moment of their first ACC home game. When asked if there was any sentimental value to hosting his alma mater, a school where he was an assistant coach and his father was the head coach, Irish head coach Kevin Corrigan quickly and succinctly answered "No."


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