The road to the national championship usually means a 32-mile jaunt down to College Park for Johns Hopkins. But for the past decade, the way has been paved with unexpected turns and bumps, always resulting in a dead end of frustration.
The Blue Jays haven't won a postseason game at Byrd Stadium since 1989, abruptly ending their past three seasons there. Hopkins has staged some of its most forgettable moments at Byrd, from missed last-second shots to embarrassing decision-making.
Only a year ago, coach Tony Seaman traveled to College Park to accept the inaugural Maryland Cup as the top Division I men's lacrosse team in the state that season, and he put the Blue Jays' futility in humorous perspective.
"I think it's the first time I've come down here and left with something," he said.
The No. 4 Blue Jays again have their tournament itinerary landing them in College Park as they play tomorrow at No. 5 Maryland, which is 6-2 on its home turf in postseason games during the '90s.
The five-game tournament skid in College Park can be traced back to 1989, when John Dressel had a wide-open shot on the crease with a few seconds remaining in the national title game against Syracuse. However, Orangeman goalkeeper Matt Palumb knocked down the shot and the Blue Jays lost, 13-12.
The misfortunes have mounted, reaching the pinnacle last season in a quarterfinal against Duke.
The Blue Jays had possession and a two-goal lead with less than a minute to play. Hopkins needed only to run out the clock.
Seeing an open goal, Hopkins midfielder Andrew Godfrey couldn't resist the temptation and took a shot with 51 seconds remaining. Duke defenseman David Stilley rushed back for an amazing deflection, giving way to an improbable Blue Devils comeback.
Duke's John Fay scored twice in the final 39 seconds to tie the game in regulation and Jared Frood hit the game-winner in overtime for a 12-11 triumph.
"It's the nightmare of all nightmares," Seaman said. "It seems impossible that we lost."
The Blue Jays watched film from the Duke game for the first time this week. Everyone watched in silence.
"It's a memory that stuck with me all year," Godfrey said. "Over the summer, I thought about it every day. But I'm not going to let us fall victim to any jinx this time."
So is there validity to a College Park jinx? "You would think so," Godfrey said. "But honestly, I really wouldn't say it has to do with the place."
Nevertheless, look at the facts.
Rewind to 1993, when Hopkins' Steve Vecchione, who had won 74 percent of his faceoffs that season, loses 22 of 27 draws as the Blue Jays bow to North Carolina, 16-10, in the semifinals. Two years later, Maryland goalkeeper Brian Dougherty turns in one of the top performances in NCAA tournament history, shutting down the highest-scoring tandem in Hopkins history with 23 saves as the Blue Jays fall, 16-8, in another semifinal.
A year after that in the Final Four, Hopkins failed to score on five extra-man opportunities, including one two-man advantage, as Virginia won, 16-10. The turning point occurred in the third quarter when Milford Marchant's shot ricocheted off the pipe with Hopkins down 7-5.
Although Seaman dislikes the odds tomorrow, he doesn't fear this tournament trend at Byrd, pointing to the Blue Jays' three straight regular-season victories over the Terps in College Park.
"I'd rather play at Byrd than Hofstra," Seaman said. "But we're trying to beat Maryland for the second time this year and that's difficult. We also have to beat them on their home field and that's difficult, too. That's why nobody in the state of Maryland expects Hopkins to win on Sunday."
College Park blues
A look at Johns Hopkins' five-game NCAA tournament skid at Byrd Stadium:
Yr. Rd. .. .. Result
'89 Final ... Syracuse, 13-12
'93 Semi. ... N. Carolina, 16-10
'95 Semi. ... Maryland, 16-8
'96 Semi. ... Virginia, 16-10
'97 Qtr. .... Duke, 12-11 OT
Pub Date: 5/16/98