When goalkeepers struggle, many lean on the old cliche of just not seeing the ball.
But to Syracuse goalie Jason Gebhardt, it wasn't just an excuse. It was a fact.
Following a 12-10 upset loss at Rutgers that included a four-goal fourth-quarter lapse, Orangemen fans, coaches and players began to question Gebhardt's ability. In several sequences over a midseason stretch, he stood completely still as the ball whizzed past him into the goal and was on the verge of losing his starting job.
So he made his first visit to an optometrist in 1 1/2 years and left with stronger prescription contact lenses. Although he refuses to place the blame of his early-season inconsistency solely on his vision, the statistics appear more than coincidental.
Since the switch of contacts, Gebhardt has regained his focus, posting a .613 save percentage and limiting the opposition to six goals over his past four games.
"In addition to not playing with as much intensity as I should have, I just had trouble seeing the ball in night games," Gebhardt said. "But it was just one of the contributing factors. I had to take a step back and change the way I approached games.
"If I can step up my game against Virginia -- and I have a good idea that I will -- our defense can play a lot more aggressive. Our defense always gets scrutinized by the public but there's not many teams this season that have held teams to under 10 goals and put up the offensive numbers we have."
Motivation for Princeton
Princeton has captured the past two national championships. The Tigers have also won 39 of their past 40 games.
Yet the selection committee ignored the past, naming Loyola the top seed and Princeton No. 2 on the basis that the Greyhounds were 2-0 against top four teams and the Tigers were 1-0.
"We felt like it was a little of a slap in the face," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "But we have to parlay that and hope that motivation helps you along the way.
"The funny thing about being the No. 1 seed: you got to go out there and prove it. If we win the next three games, then we're No. 1 and the national champion. If we lose, then there is no sense of crying about it now."
However, top-seeded Loyola heads into its quarterfinal game against unseeded Georgetown as a heavy favorite while No. 2 Princeton draws an extraordinarily tougher matchup in No. 7 Duke, a Final Four team last year that is 9-0 against nonconference opponents this season.
"What I first noticed was their size on defense. They're huge," said Tierney on scouting the Blue Devils against North Carolina last week. "They have as much of a chance to win the national championship as anybody."
Pressure on Syracuse
No team faces more stress in the quarterfinals than Syracuse. A loss in this round and the Orangemen realize they will be branded as the squad that broke lacrosse's version of "The Streak."
But that's the result of being the only school to advance to every Division I Final Four -- a string of 15 straight.
"This week has been a week of dealing with that pressure, whether it's our parents reminding us about their reservations at Rutgers or our friends and fans telling us," said attackman Casey Powell, who is four points shy of becoming the Orangemen's all-time leading scorer. "But our goal has always been to get to the Final Four and we want to achieve that."
Alpha and omega
The Virginia-Syracuse matchup is being billed as a track meet, building up the confrontation between two of the sport's top run-and-gun teams. Then there is the chess match, the Princeton-Duke contest that should be decided by ball control ,, and decision-making rather than the first team to reach 20 goals.
In the national semifinals last year, the Blue Devils took a 9-7 lead into the fourth quarter against Princeton. But the Tigers scored three goals in the fourth, taking the lead on Chris Massey's goal with five minutes remaining before giving Duke a lesson in
James Mitchell won the ensuing faceoff for the Tigers, who then played keep-away with the Blue Devils to run out the clock. Nevertheless, Duke is ready for another chance.
"The road goes through the national champion," Duke coach Mike Pressler said. "Whether it's us or another team, someone has to play them. My feeling is to be the champion, you've got to beat the champion."
A look at Syracuse goalkeeper Jason Gebhardt's games, goals allowed, saves and save percentage before and after he changed to a higher prescription of contacts:
....... .....G GA SV Pct.
Old contacts 8 84 96 .533
New contacts 4 24 38 .613
....... ....12 108 134 .554
Pub Date: 5/14/98