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Quint Kessenich: Denver is building a dynasty; let's speed up the game; and other thoughts

As a goalie I took shots. As a columnist it's my turn to let it rip.

With the college lacrosse season at its midpoint, here are some observations about teams and the season. There also are some views on youth lacrosse and parents.

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The best thing about this? We can agree to disagree.

Hopkins conservatism: Johns Hopkins (4-2) coach Dave Pietramala is the greatest take-away defender of all time. His aggressive checks dislodged the ball and created mayhem. Ironically, he teaches a vanilla, low-risk style that doesn't cause turnovers. Apparently, it's do as I say, not as I did. The Blue Jays rank 65th of 68 teams in caused turnovers per game. Hopkins currently ranks 36th in scoring defense. Modern stick technology and improved ball retention have impacted defensive strategy.

Denver dynasty?: Teams better defeat Denver (7-0) this spring, because barring injury or academic issues, the Pioneers will be unbeatable next year. In 2017, they return playmakers Connor Cannizzaro, Tyler Pace, Zach Miller, Colton Jackson, Austin French, Nate Marano, Max Planning, Brendan Bomberry, face-off man Trevor Baptiste, goalie Alex Ready, and defenders Christian Burgdorf and Dylan Johnson.

Remembering No. 16: I think about Penn State goalie Connor Darcey when I see the No. 16. I'll never forget the game he played last year against Johns Hopkins. He made 13 saves including four in overtime at Homewood Field. He also made 17 saves against the Blue Jays in the Big Ten semifinal in late April. Joe Beninati, a former goalie at Bowdoin and play-by-play voice of the Washington Capitals, called me afterwards. Goalies know goalies and he remarked that Darcey, a lefty, possessed what you can't teach — the magic. His death last summer in an automobile accident in Boston is a reminder of life's fragility.

Outdated Irish O: Notre Dame has elite athletes and a proven defensive scheme, ranking No. 1 in defensive efficiency. Scoring goals in half-field sets hasn't been easy. The Irish rank 50th in offensive efficiency. Their patterns are from the 1980s, too often working for low percentage alley shots. Ball and player movement is stagnant. They don't have a true feeder from behind the goal.

In their loss to Denver, I was underwhelmed with first team All-American Sergio Perkovic. The junior midfielder had one-point games against Maryland and Denver. The "Motor City Hit Man" is at his best when shooting right handed with his feet set. Where's the versatility to dodge with both hands and distribute to teammates? Perkovic bounced back with three goals in a win over Virginia and no doubt is a feared perimeter sniper. He's still raw and learning, and must work to develop a balanced arsenal. Distributing off the dodge comes first. To compare him to all-around midfielder greats like Roy Colsey (Syracuse), Josh Sims (Princeton), Kyle Harrison (Johns Hopkins) or Max Seibald (Cornell) at this stage is ludicrous.

Mental toughness required: It seems as if teams like Harvard, Duke and North Carolina (5-3) are mentally soft. They ride the emotional roller coaster. How else do you explain radical performance swings between their good and bad days? Harvard (4-4) beat Villanova and Duke and then dropped four straight. The Tar Heels earned a 15-11 win over Hopkins yet a 10-5 loss to Hofstra (5-3). Duke (6-4) destroys Loyola and can't hold serve at home to Richmond and Air Force.

The age of parity requires a consist effort and focus. It's not easy to bring an "A" game every week. Many players came from high schools that went 20-2 and played only a handful of tough games a year. Their summer club experience was about showcasing individual skills and not winning as a team. Club is about me, not we. Now they have to ramp it up every week, and that's a challenge. The Crimson, Blue Devils and Tar Heels have talent, no question, but are tough to trust. Expect their best this weekend as Duke hosts Syracuse Saturday at noon (ESPNU) followed by UNC at Maryland at 2 p.m. (ESPNU)

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Helicopter parents: The biggest issue in youth and high school lacrosse is the gap between parental expectations and player work ethic. Mom and dad are pushing hard. The player thinks that practicing with the team is sufficient for success. The best players I know are spending hours every week in the weight room, shooting on a goal, playing pick-up in the backyard or banging out stick work against the wall. Putting in the extra hours is a prerequisite for getting ahead. Wall-ball can help pay for college.

Shot clock: College lacrosse will remain stuck in the weeds until the sports leaders adopt a shot clock and let the athletes showcase their skills and play an invigorating brand of ball for the full 60 minutes. The referee-controlled shot clock has been a partial step in the right direction, but its application is inconsistent and subjective. Games have minutes of downtime during substitutions and mindless circular ball movement.

I covered the NCAA wrestling tournament on ESPN last week and college wrestling has done a fabulous job of evolving its rules to encourage scoring and discourage stalling. So has college basketball. Lacrosse should follow suit. It's time that the fastest sport on two feet lived up to its moniker.

Early recruiting is disgusting: The evaluation and recruitment of eighth- and ninth-graders disgusts me. Penn State recently reached a verbal agreement with an eighth-grader. It's flat out wrong on many levels. Coaches I respect and admire are participating. They must not see the damage they are doing at the high school level to kids and their families. Nobody benefits from this.

Robots lack game sense: The typical Division I lacrosse player is bigger, faster and stronger than yesteryear. What's lacking is game sense. Clearing has never been this ugly. Too often the smart player is the rarity, not the norm. Too many youth club programs are not teaching fundamentals. The exceptions to this trend are players like Dylan Donahue (Syracuse), Deemer Class (Duke), Devin Dwyer (Harvard) and Shack Stanwick (Johns Hopkins), who perform with a textbook style. They produce huge stats. It's not surprising that the best passing team in the country — Denver — is undefeated and ranked No. 1. You're only as good as your stickwork.

Ups and downs: The most surprising teams are Towson (7-1), Villanova (5-1) and Boston U. (7-2). Villanova was 6-8 last spring. Teams who have disappointed include Virginia (3-5), Colgate (3-5), Duke (6-4), Dartmouth (1-5), Georgetown (1-7), Delaware (3-6) and Princeton (2-4). Virginia, North Carolina and Duke have played themselves into precarious post-season positioning. The Cavaliers host Johns Hopkins Sunday (ESPNU 1 p.m.).

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Quint Kessenich covers college sports for ESPN and writes weekly for The Baltimore Sun during lacrosse season.

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