Big-stage events such as theKonica MinoltaFace-Off Classicat M&T Bank Stadium are usually a showcase for explosive offenses and highlight-reel goals.
But four of the six participants at Saturday's Classic feature a defenseman who has been an All-American, and one of the other teams has a player who was on pace for a similar honor in 2011 before a season-ending shoulder injury.
That's how important Johns Hopkins junior Tucker Durkin, Virginia redshirt senior Matt Lovejoy, North Carolina senior Charlie McComas, Cornell junior Jason Noble and Princeton senior Chad Wiedmaier are to their respective teams. ESPN analyst Mark Dixon said he wouldn't be surprised if they lead a defensive effort at M&T Bank Stadium.
"I think all of those guys are very important to their defenses for various reasons," the former Johns Hopkins midfielder said. "And this weekend, playing against that good competition, they're going to be even more important in terms of keeping things together and really making some things happen."
'A well-done-is-better-than-well-said guy'
Durkin has played lacrosse since the fourth grade. With exception of a one-year experiment at midfield, the Johns Hopkins player has anchored defenses with a style short on sizzle but long on results.
"I'm not very flashy," Durkin said. "I just try to work hard and stay on my attackman. Play physical, but it's controlled aggression without going out and taking somebody's head off and fouling too much. I try to find a happy medium between playing very aggressive and playing in control at the same time."
Durkin has joined junior defenseman Chris Lightner (Calvert Hall) and junior goalkeeper Pierce Bassett to give the Blue Jays a foundation to build on for this season and 2013.
"He's been everything we thought he would be," coach Dave Pietramala said. "From the first day we watched him in practice, he's more of a well-done-is-better-than-well-said guy. He's been a man of few words. He's really a tremendous worker. He comes to work, punches the clock, puts his hard hat on and goes to work."
Hungry for another ring
With 24 ground balls and 16 caused turnovers in 10 starts, Lovejoy was on track for his first All-America campaign in 2011 before a torn labrum and complete reconstruction of the acromioclavicular joint in his shoulder sidelined him for Virginia's remaining eight games — including the team's 9-7 victory over Maryland in the national championship.
"We wanted to win multiple rings, and last year, we got one. I include myself as a part of it, but I want to be able to be on the field for the final game," he said. "That definitely made me hungry. When I was going through the rehab, there were times when I was definitely getting frustrated, wondering if I would be back. But it was kind of the fuel to my fire because I want another ring."
Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia said the abbreviated 2011 campaign was not a complete loss because Lovejoy turned his stint on the sideline into a productive one.
"I think for Matt, it was a real education being on the sideline, being near the coaches," Starsia said. "When you're in the middle of the field, even in practice, you hear about half of what the coaches are saying. But on the sideline, he was getting all of it, and he was really trying to be helpful as much as he could with the younger players. He's always been a very, very smart player, a very involved player, and a very focused athlete, and I think it really enhanced his education about the game. Right now, I would say he's like having a second coach out on the field."
'His voice is big'
A spate of injuries that have included back-to-back torn right labra and sprained ankles have contributed to the absence of North Carolina's McComas from the All-America list since 2010, his sophomore year. But the Parkton native and Boys' Latin graduate said the injuries might be a distant memory.
"I don't think I've been forgotten. I just think that injuries and other things like that have provided some bumps along the road for me getting back to my sophomore year," he said. "With each day and each game, I feel myself getting a lot healthier. I'm just progressively getting better."
McComas' presence has been especially important for a Tar Heels defense that starts junior Kieran McDonald, a converted long-stick midfielder, and sophomore Jordan Smith, a first-year full-time starter.
"His voice is big," coach Joe Breschi said. "It's understanding all the schemes that we run and how critical it is to get in and out of what we do. It's so important for him to basically direct traffic out there. So being the veteran is critical."
Late start to long stick
Unlike his peers, Noble isn't an imposing physical presence for Cornell. But the 5-foot-10, 165-pound Canadian native is a ballhawk, collecting 144 ground balls (including a team-best 71 last year) and causing 67 turnovers in his career.
"I know that I don't have the size of some guys, so I have to take a different approach with who I'm guarding and what ways I can use," Noble said. "If I have a matchup against big guys like [6-3, 229-pound] Garrett Thul of Army, I have to think, 'What approach am I going to take?' I won't have the advantage of playing body against him as much as some of the other guys. But I think it does sort of give me an advantage because I can figure out what works best for me and what is best suited for the team."
Noble didn't pick up a long stick until his junior year at The Hill Academy in Concord, Ontario, where former Georgetown defensive standout Brodie Merrill converted Noble from short-stick defensive midfielder. That late start, however, didn't bother Big Red coach Ben DeLuca.
"We've had some success here at Cornell with guys who have moved to the long-stick position later in their careers," he said. "Guys like Mitch Belisle, who was a midfielder down at Severna Park High School, and we made him into a defenseman, and he turned out to be pretty good. I think it's more about attitude and work ethic. … The thing we loved about Jason right off the bat was his attitude and his motor. He plays so hard, he competes so hard in every situation that we knew pretty early on that he was going to be a guy who was going to be on the field for us."
'Like a cornerback'
Wiedmaier's credentials as one of the sport's best defenders are burnished by Cornell senior attackman Rob Pannell's output in five meetings with Wiedmaier: four goals on 44 shots.
"My own philosophy is that one-on-one defense is a personal thing," said Wiedmaier, named to the All-America second team in his first two seasons and the third team last year. "Every week before I have a matchup, I try to study and find out as many things as I can about the person and his style. So there is a personal sense of pride. If I do a good job with my matchup and can negate him from the game, yeah, there's a personal sense of pride. But at the end of the day, if we get a win, that's more important to me than anything else."
Coach Chris Bates compared Wiedmaier to a cornerback who can neutralize a wide receiver.
"His greatest attribute is the ability to cover the ball. He's our No. 1 cover guy," Bates said. "That changes the way you play defense because we don't think of having to slide to Chad much. So it's a luxury for us. That's not to say that he doesn't ever get beat, but we have great confidence that he's going to do a good job locking up our opponent's attackman."Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun