During the first half of Sunday's important, 10-9 victory over Albany, UMBC senior attackman Brendan Mundorf felt a little lighter on his feet. That's what happens when a player of Mundorf's caliber lets go of a puzzling, extended, goal-scoring slump.
Coming into the Albany game, Mundorf (Mount St. Joseph) admits he had started to press, started to force shots, started to wonder at times how and why this was happening. How could the reigning America East Player of the Year, a talent who produced 29 goals and 28 assists as a junior, a guy so skilled he made the Australian team for this summer's World Lacrosse Championships, have only three goals after six games?
Finally, Mundorf sent his lingering doubts packing. With great dodges and well-placed shots, he lit up the Great Danes with three first-half goals, doubling his season total.
"I had a little sigh of relief," said Mundorf, who also had an assist against Albany and earned conference Player of the Week honors.
"You start to think about too much as a player what you're doing right or wrong. You start aiming, because you're thinking about too much. It was definitely good to get out and get a couple of goals early. I don't want to think about [the slump] anymore."
If the Retrievers (4-3) are going to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1999, they probably need Mundorf to surge in the season's second half. Through seven games, he leads UMBC with 10 assists, but is shooting just 16.7 percent, the lowest among the team's six offensive starters.
To their credit, the Retrievers have spread their production remarkably among their starting six, who have carried an offense that has been way short on depth. The starters have accounted for all but two of the team's points.
Midfielders James Hyland, Terry Kimener and Evan Kay and attackmen Andy Gallagher, Drew Westervelt and Mundorf each have produced between 14 and 17 points.
The annual match between Towson and UMBC is typically an entertaining, physical affair that befits cross-town rivals. But tonight's meeting at UMBC carries an additional edge.
The winner might end up with a leg up on an at-large NCAA tournament bid in the event that it falters in its conference tournament and misses an automatic qualifier. With Syracuse struggling at 2-4 and facing a tough schedule ahead, and with Duke's season on indefinite suspension, two unexpected at-large slots could open next month.
"The crystal ball is awfully cloudy. It's hard to make predictions right now," UMBC coach Don Zimmerman said. "A win [tonight] is going to help you and a loss is going to hurt you. Every game, there seems to be a lot at stake."
Both the Tigers (4-4) and Retrievers are now playing well.
Towson reversed course with two straight wins, including its best performance of the spring against Colonial Athletic Association rival Delaware on March 25, before losing a 10-9 heartbreaker in overtime at No. 3 Hofstra. UMBC has beaten Denver and Albany in succession and is trying to beat three ranked teams in a row for the first time.
"I think the winner of this game has really helped themselves as far as not needing the AQ," Towson coach Tony Seaman said. "I think we have to win four more games and one of the biggest ones is [tonight]."
Penn on roll
Hofstra, which went 8-8 a year ago, is easily the biggest midseason surprise. The Pride has won seven straight after losing its season opener, and its senior-laden team looks like a real NCAA tournament threat.
Coming on equally strong - and some would say out of nowhere - are the ninth-ranked Pennsylvania Quakers, who have bolted to a 7-1 start. After collapsing amid a handful of one-goal losses to finish 2-11 in 2005, and two years after finishing 7-7 with a first-round loss in the NCAAs, Penn has served notice as Ivy League contender that it could at least grab an at-large tournament spot next month.
Led by senior midfielder and St. Paul's alumnus D.J. Andrzejewski (team-high 25 points) and bolstered by a defense that is allowing just 6.7 goals a game, Penn stamped its legitimacy with an 8-6 victory over then-unbeaten Cornell on Saturday. That left top-ranked Virginia as the lone undefeated team in Division I.
'07 final four tickets
An exclusive, pre-sale ticket offer is available for the 2007 NCAA men's lacrosse championships at M&T; Bank Stadium. The championships, which will be held May 26-28 next year, will be hosted by Johns Hopkins, UMBC, Towson University and Loyola College.
The offer is open to anyone with season tickets at a host school. Call the Ravens' box office at 410-261-RAVE or contact the ticket office at a host school.