Carl Runk turned on the answering machine in his Towson State office and listened to a message from a woman who identified herself as his "Virginia sweetheart."
A visitor's ears perked up. But, no, it wasn't that. The caller was Nancy Nolan, the wife of Danny Nolan, one of Runk's midfielders in the late 1970s who is confined to a mechanized wheelchair with Lou Gehrig's disease.
The athletic director at Christ Church School in Virginia, Nolan was in Charlottesville for Towson State's upset of Virginia in the first round of the NCAA lacrosse tournament last week. He watched from the sideline with Runk and his team.
Judging by the warm look on Runk's face while he listened to the message, it was clear he would do his best to oblige. But first the Tigers must dispose of Maryland in Saturday's semifinals before they think about playing the North Carolina-Syracuse winner in Monday's championship game.
Although Runk is in his 24th season as Towson's coach and has 213 victories, he is venturing into something new. The Tigers have never been in the Final Four -- indeed, they had never won an NCAA Division I tournament game until this year -- and Runk wants to make the most of it.
"We want to ride this wave all the way in," Runk said. "Some of the kids' parents were saying in the beginning we would make the Final Four. I tried to soothe them, saying we had a nice club, but in the back of my mind I knew we had a way to go.
"Final Four, hey, you're talking big-time. Hot dang, we did it! This has to help us in recruiting."
Recruiting -- Runk mentions that a lot. Recruiting and the "kids." When Towson posted an 11-2 record last year and was snubbed by the tournament selection committee, Runk said "I never hurt so much for a bunch of kids in my life."
It pleases Runk that the Final Four is in Syracuse. He says it'll give Towson "exposure" for recruiting purposes.
"I've been recruiting in New York for years," Runk said. "We've gotten some players, but the only one from the immediate Syracuse area who came here was a baseball player. I'd love to get Syracuse on our schedule, for the exposure. It's important to have that flow of talent coming in. Maybe now we'll get some good players from that area."
Runk has an affinity for young people, including the handicapped. One of his sons is hearing impaired, prompting him years ago to learn sign language. Runk now teaches a sign language class at Towson.
One summer Sunday some time ago, Maryland coach Dick Edell JTC was visiting his mother and took his kids to a nearby playground. He encountered Runk, who, with Leo Wisniewski, was teaching a group of blind youngsters how to play "beepball" under the auspices of the Maryland School for the Blind. The ball emits a constant beep, enabling blind children to bat it and track it down in the field.
"There was this giant of a man, 6-2, 220, relating in that way to a group of handicapped kids," Edell said.
Dino Mattessich, Towson State's associate athletic director, has worked with Runk and coached against him. In the early 1980s, before Edell arrived at Maryland, Mattessich coached the Terps for four years.
"Carl loves his players, and it's mutual," Mattessich said. "That's evident by all the alumni that come back for games and social events. He maximizes his talent, although he hasn't always had a lot. He highlights the players' strengths and hides their deficiencies. And he's a tremendous motivator, as he's shown the last two games. His team has been totally inspired."
The 11th-seeded team in the field of 12, Towson has turned aside No. 6 Virginia and No. 3 Princeton by the same 14-13 score. Now the Tigers take on No. 7 Maryland, which edged them, 17-16, on March 16. Runk feels that game provides little hint of what is to come.
"Maryland is a changed team, a brand new one," Runk said. "They've made more progress than we have. I saw them against Franklin and Marshall in their opener. If you had told me they'd be in the Final Four, I'd say the caliber of lacrosse was down. But Edell turned it around."
Runk says he "could care less" that Towson is the No. 11 seed. "It's my philosophy that a good team will show itself."
At the very least, Towson State has shown itself to be a giant-killer in this tournament.