Expect smash-mouth lacrosse between Maryland, Hopkins

When No. 5 Maryland plays No. 15 Johns Hopkins on Saturday at M&T; Bank Stadium, there isn't going to be a lot of finesse involved. It's going to be downright gritty and dirty.

The two coaches, Hopkins' Dave Pietramala and Maryland's Dave Cottle, have coached together before and are very familiar with the other's style.

There are no secrets. And if Maryland (7-2) wins, the Blue Jays' chances of making the NCAA tournament become slim -- very slim.

"My sense is that Maryland is going to try to jump right on us, and they are going to be very physical early," Pietramala said. "We have to stand tall early, right from the first whistle."

The Blue Jays (5-5), like every Maryland opponent, want to slow the Terps' transition game, which is ignited by long-pole midfielder Brian Farrell. Hopkins, though, can't be too physical because Maryland has punished teams with an extra-man offense that has scored on 17 of 30 opportunities.

"Their shooters have been phenomenal in extra-man situations," Pietramala said. "In transition, we can't allow Farrell to get up and down the field. But they also score on fast breaks off face-offs and other unsettled situations. And when that happens, they are a team that thrives off the emotion."

Cottle has no pretenses about Hopkins. He believes the game will come down to goalie play and ground balls. Maryland goalie Brian Phipps has a .532 save percentage compared with .536 for Hopkins goalies Michael Gvozden and .450 for Pierce Bassett.

Don't sleep on Duke

Obviously, the Big Three in college lacrosse are Virginia, Syracuse and North Carolina, but also keep an eye on No. 6 Duke (10-3).

The Orange struggled early in the season because of so many new faces, but Syracuse seems to have found its identity and is peaking at the right time. Duke struggled, too, in the first half of the season but is playing well now that some of its seniors have become interested in lacrosse again instead of worrying about life after the sport.

One other thing to keep in mind: Duke coach John Danowski is 17-0 in April since he started at Duke in 2007.

I know what you're thinking. He wished he was 17-0 in the month of May of as well.

Stalling no more

College and high school referees have made a concerted effort to enforce stalling rules this season, and they should be applauded.

Most of them are enforcing warnings about 45 seconds after the offensive team steps into the box, and that's good considering most possessions last about 33 to 43 seconds after a team steps in.

You still get some teams that are slow substituting or want to hold the ball to slow down the opposition, but that tactic isn't working. The officials are forcing teams to play the game the way it should be at a very fast pace.

Some, like Virginia coach Dom Starsia, want it faster.

"I don't think that officials have been a lot quicker with stall calls," Starsia said. "I wish they would push it harder. They will often let you change everyone on the fly and then run your offensive patterns before they consider a team for stalling. I think a team that changes on the fly should do so at their own risk ... if you want to change on the fly, keep it in the box, and that will bring the two way middie into the game."

Fall ball, rising costs

A lot of colleges are cutting costs in athletics, and one of the first things to go should be off-season sports like fall lacrosse. If all programs started on the same date, there would be no advantage across the board.

To eliminate fall lacrosse would save in travel money and provide more study time for students. Imagine that, more time for student- athletes to study?

Cottle favors cutting fall ball as far as cost containment, but both he and Pietramala would prefer to modify it where there would be no games played except an inter-squad or alumni game.

"I prefer to have fall ball because it allows freshmen to have that transition period, and it allows your upper classmen to get acquainted with new positions," Pietramala said.

"Fall ball is good for evaluations where you get a chance to find weaknesses, and work on them during the winter and early spring."

Midfield makes difference

If Virginia wins the national championship this year, it's because of its midfield. The Cavaliers have more athleticism at the position than any other team in the country.

There are times when Virginia coach Dom Starsia keeps the Bratton brothers, Rhamel and Shamel , on defense just to start the transition game if the Cavaliers get a turnover. Joining the Brattons on the first midfield is Brian Carroll.

On the second is John Haldy, Colin Briggs and George Huguely.

"We are athletic in the midfield, and when you consider the backgrounds of Rhamel and Shamel, Carroll, Chris LaPierre, Haldy and some others who were very successful multi-sports athletes in high school, there is definitely a trend afoot," said Starsia.


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