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It's state of game


In a season marked by its share of upsets, upstarts and NCAA tournament twists, Johns Hopkins finally found a way to get it done by winning its first national championship in 18 years. And as the 2006 season unfolds, the Blue Jays' faithful are wondering if Hopkins can make another trip back to Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia to win back-to-back titles for the first time since 1985.

While it's hard not to envision the Blue Jays, with all of their talent and savvy and good coaching, making a stand in Philadelphia on Memorial Day weekend, it's also not a stretch to imagine the state of Maryland turning the event into an invasion.

Not since 1979 has the state been represented by three schools in the postseason's final four. With the help of Maryland and Navy, this could be the year it happens again.

The Terps, led by senior attackman Joe Walters, recovered from a 5-5 start with a youthful squad and scrambled all the way to the national semifinals, before getting blown out by Duke. With virtually its entire starting lineup intact and impressive depth behind that, Maryland should produce the best team of the five-year Dave Cottle era.

Navy, which lost to Syracuse in the NCAA final two years ago, just missed making it back to the final four despite the loss of star midfielder Steve Looney to an ankle injury and despite star attackman Ian Dingman being dismissed by the academy before the season for academic reasons. Looney and Dingman are back, and Navy's roster is dotted with potential All-America candidates.

If last year is any indication, it promises to be an unpredictable spring. Syracuse missed the final four for the first time since 1982. Princeton did not make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1989. Duke, coming off a 5-8 season with one final four appearance in tournament history, nearly took the whole thing before Hopkins shut out the Blue Devils for the final 27:43 of the title game and won, 9-8.

Syracuse and Princeton are on the mend. Cornell is a threat to make it to the final four for the first time since 1988. Virginia, which lost a heartbreaker in overtime to Hopkins in last year's tournament semifinals, is not going away. And some other school, maybe Massachusetts or Notre Dame or Towson, could be primed to pull off a major postseason upset.

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