Most college lacrosse coaches are deeply loyal to their senior players, especially the ones who have proven themselves. And no position typically gets more chances to fail than the goalie, the last line of his team's defense.
All of which makes this weekend a little more interesting. Here it is late April, with the NCAA tournament looming in two weeks, and Johns Hopkins and Maryland are looking at potentially unsettled situations in the net, with the uncertainty involving two proven seniors.
In a normal year, Maryland coach Dave Cottle would be worrying about a list of things that would not include senior goalie Harry Alford, a two-time All-American. But this is not a normal year for goalkeepers at Maryland, where freshman Brian Phipps stepped in for the injured Alford (off-season shoulder surgery) and injured junior backup Jason Carter (collarbone) at the season's outset. All Phipps has done is save more than 61 percent of the shots he has faced and anchor a stout Maryland (9-4) defense that thinks it can contain Virginia in tonight's Atlantic Coast Conference tournamen at Duke.
Last night, Phipps was named ACC rookie of the year. Tonight, he might be watching Alford return to the cage.
Last week, Cottle pulled Phipps at halftime at Penn, where the Terps won, 14-10, but not before Phipps had a rare bad half that contributed to a 6-6 tie at the break.
Cottle was undecided all week as to who will start at goalie, but he seemed to be leaning toward inserting Alford, who has helped Maryland reach back-to-back Final Fours. It's a delicate decision. Do you reward Alford for past service or stick with the kid who has played beyond anyone's expectations?
Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala doesn't face quite the same dilemma. He has yet to pull the inconsistent Jesse Schwartzman, although he acknowledged he was close to giving Schwartzman the hook at halftime of last week's 10-9 win over Navy. Schwartzman had one save at the break, when Navy led, 5-4.
Freshman backup Michael Gvozden warmed up during the first half and at halftime -- not the first time that has happened this season. But Schwartzman regrouped enough in the third quarter to stay on the field.
Maybe Gvozden isn't good enough yet, or he might have taken the job by now. More likely, Pietramala is hesitant to bail on a guy who has started for three years, has a solid record in big games, and won the Final Four MVP award as a sophomore when the Blue Jays won it all with a 16-0 record.
Then again, if Schwartzman struggles early at Towson tomorrow, watch out for the hook.