Early look at ins and outs of NCAA tournament field; Loyola-Hopkins game could decide early bye; Notebook


Virginia, Syracuse and Loyola are among the schools sure to receive at-large bids. Georgetown, Notre Dame and Princeton already are in as automatic qualifiers. Navy and North Carolina, which lost overtime decisions to Johns Hopkins and Virginia last week, are out.

Although the 12-team, NCAA lacrosse tournament field will not be announced until May 7, here is an early look at how the postseason competition is shaping up:

Princeton officially earned another trip to the NCAAs by beating Cornell to claim the Ivy League title on Saturday. Georgetown has won the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference crown already, guaranteeing a return to the postseason. Notre Dame has made the tournament as the automatic qualifier from the Midwest.

With a victory today over Lehigh, Hobart will qualify from the Patriot League. And next week's America East tournament will yield the final automatic bid, which figures to end up with either Hofstra or Delaware.

As for the seven remaining, at-large slots, were the selections announced today, the field would include Virginia, Syracuse, Loyola, Johns Hopkins, Maryland, Cornell and Duke -- with first-round byes being awarded to Virginia, Syracuse, Loyola and Princeton.

The Terps, who missed the tournament last year after eight straight trips to the NCAAs, proved they belong by beating Duke and pushing Virginia in last weekend's ACC tournament. Hopkins, after a 1-3 start against the toughest schedule in the nation, has won six straight and made its loudest statement by hammering Maryland 11 days ago, 20-11.

The newcomer to the field is Cornell, which is coming off back-to-back losses to Hobart and Princeton, but also is the only team to knock off Syracuse in 2000.

Virginia and Syracuse have traded No. 1 and No. 2 rankings twice since the season's outset, and are favored to play for the national title for the second consecutive year. Loyola has lost only to Syracuse. Princeton has lost to Virginia and Syracuse.

The Loyola-Hopkins showdown on May 6 looms especially large, since the winner could receive a first-round tournament bye at the loser's expense.

Princeton's hopes injured

Life got much tougher for Princeton on Saturday, when the Tigers clinched the Ivy League title with a costly victory over Cornell.

Princeton lost sophomore attackman B. J. Prager, its top goal scorer, to a season-ending knee injury, then lost freshman defenseman Brian Lieberman minutes later to a separated shoulder for at least two weeks.

The next day, Syracuse drilled Princeton, 16-4.

"We are in a scramble mode," Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. "There's no good news here. The OK news is we've done a pretty job of rotating four attackmen and a lot of long sticks. We weren't scoring much anyway."

Lieberman, 6 feet 3, 200 pounds, had become a key link in another superb Princeton defense.

The loss of Prager could lead to the Tigers' undoing in May. The Ivy League Rookie of the Year in 1999, Prager had accounted for 23 percent of his team's goals, including 16 of Princeton's last 52.

Dog days for Retrievers

It took 12 games to do it, but UMBC finally reached the .500 mark by winning back-to-back games for the first time last week, with victories at Towson and Radford.

"It's been a long time coming. It's been a crazy year," Retrievers coach Don Zimmerman said.

The season got crazy before it began in Catonsville. During the fall, sophomore midfielder Scott Steele, projected as the team's top middie, suffered a lacerated tendon when a pane of glass fell on his foot. He was redshirted. Then, midfielders Charlie Gibson (concussion) and Jon Harasym (hand) each missed about three weeks.

Then, during a near-upset at Duke, faceoff specialist Brian Lawton -- one of the best in the nation at the time -- suffered a knee injury that has kept him out of every game since.

UMBC will miss the NCAAs for the first time in three years.

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