Hopkins to play North Carolina in Big City Classic

After a two-year absence, Syracuse and Virginia will return to the Face-Off Classic, and Johns Hopkins will participate in the Big City Classic for the first time, event organizers will announce Thursday.

Those storylines highlight a joint announcement from Konica Minolta and Inside Lacrosse, which will organize both tripleheaders involving games of local and national implications.

The Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore is scheduled for Saturday, March 12 and will feature the return of Syracuse and Virginia, two programs that have captured a combined 14 NCAA championships but hadn't participated in the event since 2008.

Syracuse, which has collected 10 national titles including in 2008 and 2009, will open the tripleheader with a contest against Big East Conference rival Georgetown at 11 a.m. Virginia, a Final Four team last season, will meet another 2010 national semifinalist in Cornell at 1:30 p.m. And Johns Hopkins and UMBC will meet in a clash of local rivals at 4 p.m.

"We're really excited about the lineup for 2011 because Virginia and Syracuse come back to the event after participating in the first two years in '07 and '08," said Andy Bilello, the director of business development for Inside Lacrosse. "If you look at it, Syracuse, Virginia and Cornell should all start the year ranked very highly in the preseason. Georgetown's a team in the Big East that has that rivalry with Syracuse that fans are familiar with, and they're a team that is usually on the cusp for a NCAA spot. And then we have a good local rivalry. Johns Hopkins is going to look to redeem itself after going through — by their standards — what may have been a disappointing year, and we expect them to be a top team in the country like they always are. And UMBC has gone to the NCAAs four out of the last five years. When it comes to the potential quality of the overall group of schools, it would be hard to be stronger."

The Big City Classic at The New Meadowlands Stadium in East Rutherford, N.J., is slated for Sunday, April 3. The tripleheader begins at 1 p.m. with a showdown between Rutgers and St. John's.

Then Johns Hopkins will meet North Carolina at 4 p.m., and the event will conclude with a meeting between Syracuse and 2010 national champion Duke. The Big City Classic will mark the first time Syracuse and Duke will meet in the regular season since 1992.

"Rutgers and St. John's, again, we were looking for another way to connect with the grassroots of the lacrosse audience in the tri-state area. So it just happened to be a nice fit for that weekend," Bilello said. "The other two games, again, we were looking for great match-ups with teams that are likely to be at the top of the polls."

However, the Day of Rivals doubleheader involving Johns Hopkins-Maryland and Navy-Army will not return next year, Bilello confirmed. All four teams expressed an interest in returning the games to their respective campuses — a sentiment that persuaded officials at Syracuse and Virginia to pull their annual meeting from the Face-Off Classic after the 2008 version.

"We always knew from the outset that these games had such great importance and tradition to those schools that it would be very hard for them to continue playing at a neutral site forever," Bilello said. "I think it's very similar to what had been mentioned previously by the coaches at Virginia and Syracuse, that, 'We like the idea, and it was a good experience. We just think it's important to have our athletes and our fans and these games on campus.' Certainly, we're open, and I think the schools are open to looking at the possibility of doing this again down the road. At least that's our position on it. We love these games, and that's something we'll always be thinking about."

Johns Hopkins, which had played Princeton in the Face-Off Classic the previous four years, was pleased to be included in next year's lineup after agreeing with Princeton to pull their annual contest out of the event.

"We think it provides our student-athletes with a very exciting environment and we believe it provides our team with an opportunity to play in a pro venue and in a playoff-type environment," Blue Jays coach Dave Pietramala said. "It's almost like a smaller version of a Final Four. So we feel that the opportunity to simulate a playoff-type atmosphere with such a young team is really going to beneficial to our team and our program. We're excited to play here in Baltimore and continue to be a part of that event, and we're equally excited to be part of a new one in The Meadowlands."

UMBC will be making its first appearance in the Face-Off Classic, which could be a springboard to more recruits.

"We're excited," Retrievers coach Don Zimmerman said. "We've never played a game in M&T and to be a part of this venue is going to be a great opportunity and be terrific for the kids. We appreciate Inside Lacrosse including us."


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