The road to the final four has led Loyola, Maryland, Duke and Notre Dame to Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. But their midfields could drive them to a coveted national title.

Each of those four programs boasts a productive but distinct midfield. Loyola has the top playmaking unit. Maryland's is the most diverse. Duke features the postseason's most potent unit, and Notre Dame's is the deepest.

Here is a look at the four different midfields.

Loyola's playmakers

Everyone knows about junior attackman and Tewaaraton Award finalist Mike Sawyer (51 goals and eight assists) and fifth-year senior attackman Eric Lusby (45, 16), but the top-seeded Greyhounds (16-1) also are powered by their first line of juniors Davis Butts (19, 13), Sean O'Sullivan (16, 11) and Chris Layne (11, 10).

In fact, Loyola's unit is the only one left in the final four that has three players with 10 assists each. That midfield's value comes from its ability to dodge and force defenses to slide and open opportunities for Sawyer and Lusby.

"That first line of Davis Butts, Sean O'Sullivan and Chris Layne is offensive-minded," said Paul Carcaterra, ESPN analyst and former Syracuse All-American midfielder . "This is the best passing midfield in the final four."

Maryland's diversity

The unseeded Terps (11-5) have been riding the recent hot sticks of senior Drew Snider (six goals in the NCAA tournament), redshirt sophomore Mike Chanenchuk (3, 2) and junior John Haus (2, 0).

Maryland also is getting quality minutes and contributions from a second line composed of junior Kevin Cooper (1, 1), senior Michael Shakespeare (1, 0) and freshmen Joe LoCascio and Jay Carlson.

"They're all great players," said Duke coach John Danowski, who will have to craft a strategy against the Terps for Saturday's national semifinal. "So the hope is that you can stay between them and the goal, slide to guys when you need to and when they're a threat. Read their posture and get to their hands and not let them extend their hands. Maryland is so patient offensively that you just have to be vigilant all the time."

Duke's explosiveness

No starting midfield unit has been more productive in the postseason than the No. 3 seed Blue Devils' group of seniors Robert Rotanz (eight goals and one assist) and Justin Turri (4, 5) and junior Jake Tripucka (2, 3). Add junior David Lawson (2, 2), and Duke (15-4) is quite imposing.

Maryland shut out Rotanz in two previous meetings this season, but coach John Tillman isn't expecting to do that again.

"They do a very good job of breaking you down off the dodge because they're so athletic and strong, and they can shoot the ball," he said. "Yet they're very unselfish, and you can't just key in on one guy or they're going to give you fits. We've really just to play good system defense, and we've got to hope that [redshirt sophomore goalie] Niko [Amato] plays very well for us."

Notre Dame's depth

No. 4 seed Notre Dame (13-2) runs three lines, spreading the wealth in its midfield and keeping its players fresh for the heat in May.

The starting group of senior Max Pfeifer, junior Ryan Foley and sophomore Jim Marlatt has combined for nine goals and seven assists, and the second line of senior Eric Keppeler and juniors Steve Murphy and Patt Cotter has totaled three goals and five assists.

"They have certainly ramped things up tournament time, and it's turned our heads," Loyola coach Charley Toomey said. "We know we've got to defend their middies. We've got to make sure that we're organized behind the ball and protect [sophomore goalkeeper] Jack Runkel."

edward.lee@baltsun.com

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