Joe Breschi and Jeff Tambroni haven't actually spoken in the past couple of months, communicating only through a couple of phone messages, filled with words of encouragement and support.
But the respective coaches of Ohio State and Cornell, the first two teams to earn their conference's automatic bids to the NCAA tournament, both talked about an emotional -- and painful -- bond that has tied the programs together.
A little more than two months ago, Michael Breschi, the 3-year-old son of the Buckeyes' coach, was hit by a sport utility vehicle in the parking lot of his preschool in Clintonville, Ohio. The oldest of Joe and Julie Breschi's three children was killed in the accident.
After he heard about what had happened, Tambroni, the fourth-year coach of Cornell, said that he and his wife, Michelle, who have two daughters of their own, sat on the couch and cried.
"We put ourselves in their shoes and just thought it was an unbelievable tragedy," Tambroni said. "Then it happened to us."
On March 17, George Boiardi, a senior defensive midfielder from the Landon School in Bethesda, died after getting hit in the chest with a shot during Cornell's game against Binghamton in Ithaca, N.Y.
"I know the tears. I know the sadness," said Breschi, a former standout at Loyola High. "When you lose somebody who is close to you, you become part of a group that nobody wants to belong to, and you just bond together to help each other through it."
Just days after Boiardi's death, Breschi left a voicemail for Tambroni to offer his support.
"Just hearing his voice, that meant a lot," Tambroni said. "It was nice to have somebody like that on your side who was going through the same thing. If you're not cheering for your own program, it's very difficult to not cheer for them because [of] what the Buckeyes' program is dealing with."
After not traveling with his team to UMBC the weekend of his son's death, Breschi returned to the sideline a week later against Drexel, the first of the No. 7 Buckeyes' 11 straight wins -- they are 12-2 overall, 5-0 in the Great Western Lacrosse League -- entering Saturday's nonleague game against North Carolina.
"I've needed them more than they needed me," said Breschi, whose team's motto has been "thumbs up," one of Michael Breschi's favorite expressions. "The thing I'm dreading is that this season is going to end, but the love and the camaraderie of this particular group of guys -- we've grieved together, we've hugged, we've cried together -- is always going to make this season memorable."
For Cornell, Boiardi's death came two days before the Big Red was scheduled for a spring-break trip to North Carolina, where Cornell was scheduled to play the Tar Heels. The Big Red went on the trip anyway but didn't pick up lacrosse sticks for five days and seriously contemplated halting its season.
On Saturday, ninth-ranked Cornell (8-3, 5-1 in league) upended Brown, 10-9, to help it earn the Ivy League's automatic bid. After the game, Boiardi's No. 21 jersey was retired.
Final four update
There have been 26,000 all-session ticket packages sold for the final four at M&T; Bank Stadium on Memorial Day weekend -- well ahead of last season's total at this time, said tournament director Marty Schwartz.
Schwartz said that Lax4Baltimore, the local organizing committee running the event, is expecting a sellout and considering opening the upper deck of the Ravens' stadium, which would make available 28,000 more seats. With the upper deck closed last year, capacity was 40,800.
Gravante in hospital
Mount St. Mary's athletic director Chappy Menninger said that Mountaineers lacrosse coach Tom Gravante is at Johns Hopkins Medical Center, recovering from pneumonia.
Gravante, 37, who has battled non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, a cancer that attacks lymph tissues, was taken to the hospital Friday, but Menninger said early reports indicated his illness is unrelated to his past medical condition.
Powell on pace
With the outcome against Massachusetts no longer in doubt Saturday, Syracuse All-American Michael Powell did a front flip with the ball in his stick and upon landing, fired a shot that was blocked before it reached the goal.
"The Move," which the flip has become known as, has been debated ad nauseam, overshadowing other important matters.
With six goals and an assist in a 17-10 win over the Minutemen, giving him 282 points for his career, Powell is only six points from passing his brothers, Casey and Ryan Powell, as the all-time leading Syracuse scorer.
The week ahead
No. 1 J. Hopkins (10-1)
Schedule: at Loyola, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: If it's not Kyle Barrie, it's Conor Ford. If it's not Kyle Harrison, it's Lou Braun or Greg Peyser. The Blue Jays just have too many weapons not to be the favorite.
Schedule: vs. No. 1 Johns Hopkins, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: The Greyhounds are obviously playing for pride at this point, and they stand to gain a good dose of it if they keep the game close with the Jays.
No. 3 Maryland (11-2)
Schedule: vs. No. 17 Pennsylvania, Saturday, 1 p.m.
Skinny: Another dangerous game with an opponent needing an impressive win. For the Terps, the question does remain: Will it be a two seed or a three?
No. 2 Navy (11-2)
Schedule: NCAA tournament first round, May 15 or 16.
Skinny: Patriot League champion has a nice ring to it, but the Mids aren't satisfied. Navy has assured itself of a No. 2 or a No. 3 seed, depending on what Maryland does this weekend.
No. 10 Towson (10-4)
Schedule: vs. No. 14 Villanova in CAA tournament final, Saturday, 7:30 p.m.
Skinny: Even if the Tigers already clinched an NCAA bid, which is the bet here, Saturday's game is essentially a must win. A loss might send them on the road in the first round and affect their seed drastically.