Team on a mission, Syracuse is best bet to come out on top


Let's cut right to the chase:

Syracuse is going to win the national championship in lacrosse this weekend at College Park.

Don't bet the money for the kids' shoes on that, but that's how I see it.

Syracuse is in the semifinals of the NCAA tournament Saturday with North Carolina, Princeton and Johns Hopkins.

Carolina will play Hopkins at 1 o'clock. At around 4 p.m., Princeton will meet Syracuse. The winners will battle for the title at noon Monday.

These are the four best teams in the country. You can make a case for any of them.

Carolina is seeded No. 1. Princeton won the title last year. Hopkins, led by Terry Riordan and Brian Piccola, is smart and high scoring.

But Syracuse has something extra going for it.

The others are playing for a title. Syracuse is playing for more than that. The Orange - which, don't forget, was picked No. 1 by the coaches in the preseason poll - is on a very personal mission.

Syracuse has been under fire for violating NCAA regulations. A year ago the school reported that, because of an administrative error, it had been using more than the allowed 12.5 scholarships for lacrosse. The NCAA therefore took away three scholarships.

Early this month a former Syracuse player, Jerry DeLorenzo, accused Orange coach Roy Simmons Jr., of having broken other NCAA rules. The newspapers up there splashed the story. A Syracuse law firm has been engaged by the NCAA and is investigating the charges.

I know DeLorenzo, who, oddly enough, was the goalie at Towson State last year, and I know Roy Simmons Jr. If you hadn't already guessed, each has a strong dislike for the other.

Simmons' only comment on DeLorenzo's allegations and the investigation: "This is not pertinent to the Final Four. It's a personal matter between a sociopath and yellow journalism."

People down this way tend not to appreciate what Roy Simmons means in Central New York. He's more than a legend. We're talking about a double legend.

Roy Jr.'s father, Roy Sr., was the coach at Syracuse from 1931 through 1970. Roy Jr., who played for Syracuse with Jim Brown in the '50s, has coached the team since 1971 - and enjoyed spectacular success.

Since the NCAA lacrosse championships adopted the Final Four format in 1986, only one team - Syracuse - has been in every one. The Orange has been in the championship game seven of the past 10 years.

Coaching Syracuse is not just Roy Jr.'s job. It's his life just as it was his father's life. The father, now in his '90s, attends every home game. At the breakfast table on Sunday mornings, Roy Sr. critiques Roy Jr.'s Saturday games. Father and son are in the Lacrosse Hall of Fame.

The Syracuse players have rallied around their beloved coach. When DeLorenzo's charges were made, the team responded by beating Hopkins, 21-17.

Hopkins has been playing lacrosse since 1883. No one, ever, in 111 seasons, has scored more than 21 goals against the Blue Jays. Syracuse also met that figure last year, beating Hopkins, 21-16, in the NCAA semifinals. Maryland beat the Jays, 21-13, in 1976.

The next time out, which was last Saturday in the NCAA quarterfinals, Syracuse smashed Hofstra, 20-8.

Coach Dave Cottle, whose Loyola team was eliminated by Princeton last week, 12-6, knows the college lacrosse scene as well as anyone. He understands how the off-field problems have aroused Syracuse.

"It's them against the world now," Cottle said.

Cottle's team has played all four semifinalists. Loyola beat only Syracuse, 14-13, in overtime at home on March 20.

"Carolina has the strongest team," Cottle said, "but the weakest position - goalie. When they lost their regular goalie, Billy Daye [on April 3], that really hurt them. Their goalie now, Gary Lehrman, is not as good. The way Hopkins shoots, that could be a huge problem for Carolina.

"In the Princeton-Syracuse game, whoever wins the first quarter will win the game. Syracuse has a lot of talent, but Princeton plays great defense. Their goalie, Scott Bacigalupo [first team HTC All-America last year], is playing even better this year. Princeton will do some things that will make Syracuse think."

Hopkins can't run with Carolina, which the Tar Heels demonstrated (14-9) during the regular season. Princeton shocked a lot of people - including Syracuse - by beating the physically superior Orange in the title game last year.

"I know Billy [Princeton coach Bill Tierney] is eager to play us again," Simmons said.

Actually, it is Syracuse that has longed for a year for this rematch. Some wonder if Princeton, with its light Ivy League schedule, belongs at College Park.

"That's OK with me," Tierney said, "as long as we don't belong the way we didn't belong last year."

Before the draw and the seedings were announced, Hopkins' Seaman said he was hoping to see Syracuse and Carolina, two deep, athletic, up-and-down teams, hook up in a Saturday semifinal.

"That would be a game of ambulances," Seaman said. "We could play the survivor on Monday."

It's quite possible that Syracuse and Carolina will meet in the Monday game.

"If that happens," Cottle said, "I'm picking Syracuse."

So am I.

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