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Top specialists are the storyline. The two best faceoff men and goalies go head-to-head. Possessions will be hard-fought, with the Terps' Charlie Raffa squaring off against Kevin Massa at the center line. Massa leads the country in faceoff percentage (.708) and ground balls per game (10.9). Raffa has won draws at a .676 rate, good for second-best. Both goaltenders will attempt to shut the door -- Gunnar Waldt (.610) and Niko Amato (.574) stand proud in the crease. Waldt (St. Paul's, pictured) feasts on low-angle shots and plays aggressively on a high arc. Amato sits deeper on the goal line and works hard to see every shot. He rarely guesses, relying on quick hands. Both exude confidence. Bryant (16-4) is for real. The Bulldogs have defeated Drexel and Albany, two quarterfinalists. They upset Syracuse at the Carrier Dome, winning an NCAA tournament game for the first time. The Terps and Bulldogs are mirror images built by a possession advantage, stout defense and methodical offense. Bryant usually starts in man-to-man defense and switches to zone. For Maryland (12-3), the offense hasn't exactly been on a tear. It has been held to 19 goals combined in its three defeats. Freshmen accounted for five of the eight goals last week in the last-minute victory over Cornell. "With exams this week, less is more," said coach John Tillman. "They have earned our trust; they are sophomores now." On the other side of the ball, the Terps have surrendered double-digit goals just three times this spring but own the nation's top scoring defense (6.93 goals per game). Goals will be in short supply. Will the Maryland freshmen step up again? How will Bryant handle the spotlight?
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Albany (12-5) has won eight straight, the latest over Loyola in a 13-6 shocker Saturday in Baltimore. The Great Danes have the nation's most potent offense with Lyle and Miles Thompson (pictured) at the wheel. Lyle averages 7.2 points per game, while Miles leads the nation in goals per game (4.7). Albany has never appeared in the NCAA semifinals. "They always have the green light," said coach Scott Marr. "Lyle's IQ, command and how he gets everyone involved is as good as I've ever seen. Their creativity has put a spark into the game." The Thompson brothers and cousin Ty will be challenged by a Fighting Irish defense that likes to send early double teams. Positioning, decision making and execution must be on point when covering Lyle. Albany's midfielders and cutters will be given every chance to get open and score. Albany ranks low in team defense (No. 48) and faceoff percentage (No. 51). The Danes have put tons of pressure on their goalie, Blaze Riorden, a big lefty who averages 13 saves per game. Blaze was on fire against the Greyhounds and is a proven gamer with career wins over Syracuse, Johns Hopkins and Loyola. Notre Dame (10-5) usually has a top-10 defense, but not this year. How will they defend Lyle and Miles Thompson? The Atlantic Coast Conference champs are more balanced in 2014, able to win a 6-5 pitchers' duel or a 16-15 barnburner. Matt Kavanagh is their bona fide star who partners well with John Scioscia at attack. The Irish extra-man unit clicks at an impressive 54 percent.
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The distance between the traditional men's lacrosse powers and the newcomers is shrinking. Nowhere was that more evident than in the shutdown of the Orange by Bryant, which six short years ago toiled in Division II. Eight teams remain, and five of them have never won a national title. It's time to study the angles. --By Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun
By Quint Kessenich, For The Baltimore Sun