After Maryland lost to host North Carolina under Friday night lights in the semifinals of the 1995 Atlantic Coast Conference men's lacrosse tournament, coach Dick Edell wanted out of Tobacco Road as quickly as possible. The Terps cleaned up, checked out of their hotel and made a nocturnal 290-mile bus ride, in time to catch the Saturday morning sunrise in College Park.
A quick getaway won't be that easy for the two losers in tonight's ACC tournament semifinals, and that and other logistical concerns led the league's three veteran coaches to question the wisdom of taking the championships to Disney's Wide World of Sports Complex in Orlando, Fla. It's the first time the ACC Springfest - championships in men's and women's golf, lacrosse, tennis and track and field - will be conducted at an off-campus venue.
The ACC tried to include men's and women's lacrosse a few years ago in Atlanta, another destination unfamiliar with Division I lacrosse, but those plans fell through. John Haus, North Carolina's first-year coach, voiced no preseason concerns over the shift to Orlando, but Edell, Duke's Mike Pressler and Virginia's Dom Starsia are a little more set in their ways. All complained about the new format in February, and reiterated their gripes this week.
"Our players probably think they're going to see Mickey Mouse and Space Mountain," Pressler said. "We're going down there to win some lacrosse games. As coaches, we unanimously agree that there are a lot of logistical headaches involved with this. It's an unusual situation. It's a different environment, and as coaches, we like to have control."
Lacrosse - in the NCAA in general and the ACC specifically - is accustomed to operating on its own, but both entities have seen the sport grow into a solid spectator draw. Sunday's ACC final might not get the same walk-up crowd as Byrd Stadium or Charlottesville, Va., but Florida's state high school athletic association is on the verge of sanctioning lacrosse, and the ACC coaches realize that while the location might not be good for them, it might be for the game.
"It's a tough trip this time of year," said Starsia, who in February lamented additional travel costs for his players' families. "It will be a treat for the kids [players], but it's a little bit of a burden on parents and friends who want to make the trip down."
Edell said that the ACC lacrosse coaches last year voted unanimously against having their 2001 championship in Orlando, but that their say didn't matter. He's also concerned about his 19th season at Maryland, as his 2002 schedule sends the Terps to Duke and North Carolina, and back to Durham, N.C., for the ACC tournament, since the Blue Devils' turn as host was delayed a year.
The ACC went to the Disney complex, which opened in 1997 and has been host to events ranging from spring training for the Atlanta Braves to national youth soccer championships, to give its athletes in less-visible sports what it calls a "bowl"-like experience. Travel expenses, which are reimbursed by the conference, will be considerably higher. There is no consolation game, and with it being the end of a holiday week, tonight's losers aren't sure when they'll be able to get back to their campuses.
It's difficult to predict who will emerge in Sunday's 2:30 p.m. championship. Tonight's first semifinal matches Maryland and Virginia, and Duke and North Carolina meet in the second.
No. 3 Maryland's only loss was to Virginia, as the Terps wasted their No. 1 ranking in the last week in March with a 7-2 setback in Charlottesville. Tillman Johnson, the Cavaliers' freshman goalie out of St. Mary's, was hot that day, but Pat McGinnis, his counterpart with the Terps, has been the best in the nation.
No. 11 Virginia, which has won the past two ACC tournaments and three of the last four, got an unexpected semifinal date with the top-seeded Terps after upset losses to No. 17 North Carolina and No. 12 Duke. The Blue Devils beat the Cavaliers in the closing seconds last Saturday, and Duke desperately needed that win to punch up a resume that includes a loss to Harvard.
Virginia, the 1999 national champion, is hardly a lock for the 12-team NCAA field. The Cavaliers, who have been slowed by injuries to midfielders Billy Glading (ankle) and Hanley Holcomb (hamstring), would drop to 5-6 with a loss to Maryland tonight. They finish with non-league games against Ohio State and Butler, and a losing record would eliminate them from NCAA tournament consideration. The Cavaliers last missed the tournament in 1992.
North Carolina's 7-5 win over Virginia two weeks ago was only its second win in its last 20 games against ACC opponents. The Tar Heels haven't won an ACC tournament game since 1996, when they took the championship.