Winner will rate a 10

The Baltimore Sun

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- History has already been assured.

When No. 5 seed Johns Hopkins (11-5) and No. 3 seed Syracuse (15-2) meet in the NCAA Division I tournament championship game today at 1 p.m. at Gillette Stadium, one of those teams will walk away as the first lacrosse program in NCAA history to capture 10 national titles.

Although the NCAA forced Syracuse to vacate its 1990 crown because of violations, the Orange is widely recognized as having won nine championships. So today's outcome will result in a distinction unlike any other for these storied schools.

As compelling as that history is, however, players on both teams said they are concerned only with the present.

"You kind of think about it because we obviously would like to have that 10th national championship for our school," Johns Hopkins senior attackman Kevin Huntley (Calvert Hall) said. "At the same time, we kind of have to focus on us and just this year. You don't really want to focus too much on the past."

Syracuse senior attackman Mike Leveille echoed Huntley's sentiments, saying: "We certainly take pride in the Syracuse tradition, and they have a great tradition as well. But we're trying to make our own mark here."

Whatever the conclusion, the championship will continue to reside among a select group - the Blue Jays, Orange, Princeton and Virginia - that has won every crown since 1992.

Top seed Duke's 10-9 loss to Johns Hopkins in the semifinals Saturday meant that the 1992 Princeton squad will continue to be the most recent first-time winner, and talk of a leveling playing field - while relevant - has its limits.

"When I grew up playing, it was Syracuse and Hopkins," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "Everyone wants to talk about parity, and yet here we are and here's Syracuse and here's Hopkins."

These teams have split four championship games - the Blue Jays won in 1984 (13-10) and 1985 (11-4) and Syracuse in 1983 (17-16) and 1989 (13-12).

They tangled March 15, with the Orange rallying from a three-goal deficit to win, 14-13, in overtime on senior midfielder Steven Brooks' goal.

That setback was the second loss of a five-game skid that some believed would keep Johns Hopkins out of the postseason for the first time since 1971. But the Blue Jays ended the regular season with five straight victories and enter today's contest on an eight-game winning streak.

During its run, Johns Hopkins has rediscovered its offense (an average of 11.1 goals) and tightened its defense (an average of 5.0 goals).

"I think they've come a long way since the last time we played them," Leveille said, noting the Blue Jays' strategy of forcing opposing shooters away from the middle of the field to the alleys. "Certainly, we want to get high-quality shots and good angles. We don't want to let them force us to poor angles. ... We want to get to the spots where we feel comfortable shooting."

Syracuse boasts the nation's second-ranked offense (13.6 goals) and has remolded a porous defense into a unit that has surrendered just 7.6 goals a game. Under coach John Desko, the Orange has taken home titles in 2000, 2002 and 2004.

The only edge Johns Hopkins might have is the been-there, done-that factor. While the Orange is making its first appearance in a tournament final since 2004, the Blue Jays have an opportunity to collect their third national crown in four years.

"We've been there before, and we know we can do it," senior attackman Michael Doneger said. "Even though each year is different, we know that we have the guys that have done it in the past. So we know that the experience is there."

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