ESPN analyst and former Johns Hopkins All-American goalkeeper Quint Kessenich will ditch the studio this weekend and provide commentary for all four quarterfinal contests at Princeton on Saturday and Stony Brook on Sunday. Kessenich revealed his thoughts on ranking Army's win against Syracuse, Maryland's chances against Notre Dame and the worst surprise of the quarterfinal round.
Question: How would you rate Arm'y upset of No. 2 seed and 11-time reigning national champion Syracuse on Sunday?
Quint Kessenich: “The Army victory over Syracuse is one of the biggest playoff upsets I’ve seen. You can compare it to Delaware going down to Virginia in 2007, but very few 1 and 2 seeds have lost a home game in the NCAA Tournament. This Army team is radically improved. They opened the season 1-4, went on a great win streak, and beat Navy twice – which is really special. They have found a way to win close games. They’ve been involved in eight one-goal games. They have some star players in [junior attackman] Jeremy Boltus, [freshman attackman] Garrett Thul and [junior goalkeeper]Tom Palesky. They have a really tight defense, and they’re battle-tested now. There’s a certain confidence there, and they’re a great story.”
Q: Any other surprising developments from the first round?
QK: “Delaware was the sexy upset pick, and they’ve really changed the way they played, and they really gave North Carolina all that they could handle. All of a sudden, North Carolina’s defense is really struggling. They’ve given up about 13 goals a game in their last five games. They’re not the same team that they were in March. [Junior attackman] Billy Bitter had trouble with his traction, but it was a gutty win by North Carolina. But they’re going to have to play significantly better if they’re going to beat Duke. And I was really impressed with Virginia in terms of their sharpness. Amid all these distractions, amid the tragedy, they came out and were very crisp. Their legs looked fresh, they looked fast. They played much better and they were more efficient than I would have guessed.”
Q: How dangerous is Notre Dame to Maryland’s hopes of reaching the Final Four for the first time since 2006?
QK: “Notre Dame is a team that plays excellent defense, and they protect the middle of the field and allow their [senior] goalie Scott Rodgers to make saves from 10 yards and out. They pack it in and they really condense the defense. So the challenge for Maryland is going to be to get to the middle of the field and generate quality shots. It’s not quantity. Princeton took 37 shots, but very few were from the inside or the middle of the field. Because Rodgers is so big, you can’t take those severe-angle shots. He just fills up the goal too much. Maryland’s focus will be to get to the middle of the field. Notre Dame’s not a high-scoring offense. They’ve got a couple good players. [Junior midfielder] David Earl really turned it up a notch the other day. [Senior attackman] Grant Krebs and [junior midfielder] Zach Brenneman are their stars, but Notre Dame is a tricky team in that they can score in transition if you give them opportunities. So Maryland has just got to play their typical game and try to wear Notre Dame down. I’m really impressed with Maryland’s intangibles this year. They’re really a team relying less and less on their stars and getting contributions from a lot of different people. They have a certain mental toughness where they don’t always play well and yet they find ways to win. At times, they look like they’re struggling, and then they seem to fight through it.”
Q: Which quarterfinal game this weekend will yield the least surprising result?
QK: “I would make Duke the biggest favorite of the weekend. That may sounds surprising, but I see two teams who are potentially going in different directions. Carolina won the regular-season game in Durham, and yet I think that if Duke can make a couple saves, they can win that ball game. I think Stony Brook is capable of giving Virginia a game at home. That’s a very skilled Stony Brook team. I’m not sure their team speed and goaltending is where they need to be to pull the upset off. We’ll see. I think Notre Dame can muck it up against Maryland and keep that game close. And I think the Cornell-Army game is a toss-up. So right now, I see Duke on the improve, and I see Carolina sputtering towards the finish line.”
Q: What were your thoughts on Virginia senior defenseman Ken Clausen, Stony Brook junior midfielder Kevin Crowley, Duke fifth-year senior attackman Ned Crotty, Delaware senior attackman Curtis Dickson and Syracuse junior long-stick midfielder Joel White making the list as the five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award?
QK: “I talked to the [nominating] committee members and they recommended that the Tewaaraton Committee have eight finalists this year because of the nature of this year. There are a lot of exceptional players, and to pick it with four games left in the season, they felt that certain athletes should have been finalists. But the committee said it was too difficult from a logistical standpoint to invite eight families to the Tewaaraton banquet and do that. If it were up to me this year, I think you need a little flexibility. [Sophomore attackman] Rob Pannell of Cornell has to be a Tewaaraton finalist. I just don’t see any way around that. To me, [Duke senior attackman] Max Quinzani is a quality player, and had Syracuse won [Sunday] night, I think everyone would have been screaming for [junior goalkeeper] John Galloway. So I would just encourage the committee to be a little more flexible in their selections. Guys like Rob Pannell, John Galloway and Billy Bitter should be in that mix.”