Sunday, May 21, 2006

Virginia downs Georgetown 20-8

If the theme of Saturday's quartfinal matches was thrilling or action-packed, Sunday's was most assuredly dominance.

First Maryland took care of Princeton with suffocating defense. This time it was the offensive onslaught of the number one team in the country, the Virginia Cavaliers.

The Cavaliers were unarguably rusty in their first round match against Notre Dame. Losing the game with Duke really seemed to present a stumbling block but that didn't stop Virginia from blazing out of the gate with four unanswered goals. As usual, it was the seniors scoring Virginia's first six goals of the game. Georgetown recovered from the initial barrage of Virginia offense and answered with their own sharpshooter Dave Paolisso. The Hoya scored his first of four goals with 2:49 left in the first quarter. Sean Denihan picked up a key goal to try and end the first quarter with some momentum with the deficit only 5-2.

In the second quarter both sides continued to exchange goals back and forth. Virginia had just about anything it wanted on offense but kept turning the ball over or committing uncharacteristic turnovers. The Cavaliers had four penalties in the second quarter helping Paolisso spring loose for two more goals. Still contributions by Matt Ward, Ben Rubeor and Garrett Billings helped Virginia still led 8-5 at the break.

The second half was where Virginia really turned up the heat. Matt Poskay for Virginia and Garret Wilson of the Hoyas exchanged goals in the opening minutes of the third to make the score 9-6. Then Virginia went on a three goal blitz to extend their lead to six. The Hoyas got a man up goal by Chase Gahan with 8:09 to go, seemingly ending the run. Instead the Cavaliers packed in five unanswered goals. This made the score 17-7 and was more than enough for the Virginia offense to hold the ball and walk their way into Philadelphia. In the end, Virginia had a 20-8 beatdown in their win column, extending their longest winning streak to 15.

Virginia had looked far different from when they were virtually invincible earlier in the season. The Cavalier defense had given up way too many goals to mediocre competition and many began to wonder if Virginia would find its form in time. Well, mission accomplished. The Virginia offense was not just good, they were unstoppable. Ten different Cavaliers scored and the top players were magnificent. Matt Ward, broken hand and all, had 8 points on the game. Matt Poskay continued a 20 game goal streak with four. Ben Rubeour however had an even bigger game with 5 goals and 2 assists just minutes from his hometown. These amazing numbers have every other team in the country paying attention to the lone undefeated team left.

Next up for the Cavaliers is a rematch with the Syracuse Orange. Virginia won 20-15 earlier in the season to break the record for consecutive home wins at Klockner. This time however, the Orange are riding high on a 9-game winning streak. Joe Yevoli will once again be the focus, the former Cavalier now Orange attackmen figured prominently last time and looks to do so again.

Lincoln Financial Field will be an exciting place this weekend, and one of mixed emotions for the Cavaliers. It would have been truly difficult had Hopkins won to replay the heart-breaking end to last year's season. Will a similar fate befall the number one team in the country, or will Virginia continue its road towards perfection?

Maryland downs Princeton 11-6

The 2nd seeded Maryland Terrapins (12-4) continued their impressive NCAA tournament run with an 11-6 victory over the 7th seeded Princeton Tigers (13-5).

The Tigers had owned the series as of late between the two teams, including their last match which cost the Terps a trip to the Final Four. This time the tables were turned as Maryland completely outclassed Princeton.

The scoring barrage started early for the Terrapins, scoring the first four goals in a the opening 7:15. The Tigers were completely incapable of even getting the ball on their side of the field. They lost 6 of the first 9 face-offs. Even when they did win they quickly would turn the ball over. Many of their possessions did not even result in a single shot. Scott Sowanick helped out the Tigers with an important goal to make the score 4-1 but Michael Phipps responded for Maryland with a quick shot and ended the first quarter of dominance 5-1.

Still, the theme of this week has been no lead is safe. The second quarter most assuredly belonged to the Tigers. When they finally held on to the ball, good things started to happen. In a span of three minutes the Tigers took complete control of the game with four goals. They might not have many shots but they were shooting a great percentage, starting the game 5 for 8. Maryland goalie Harry Alford could only look in disgust as Maryland had blown a four-goal lead.

The Terps did not wallow in despair for long. Midfielder Dan Groot picked up a huge goal from long range with his longstick. It was only his 5th goal of the season but it shifted the momentum back in Maryland's favor. Phipps would knock in one more goal with 3:24 in the half to give Maryland a 7-5 lead at the break.

With the quarters being split, one being dominated by Maryland and the other a surge by Princeton, the third would prove critical. Princeton could not make that key goal to cut the gap to one and put pressure on the second-seed. The physical play by Maryland was simply phenomenal. Tigers were flying across the field and the referees let both sides play. Brendan Healy used a great feed by Tewaaraton finalist Joe Walters to knock in the only goal of the quarter and make it an 8-5 cushion for Maryland.

The fourth quarter was some of the more excellent execution by the Terps. Ball control remained a critical aspect of the game. Princeton could not get the ball and when they did a stifling defense made them cough it up moments after they got it in their stick. Maryland had a 44-20 edge on ground balls and 13 more shots on goal than their competition.

Alford stepped up his game in the second half, recording six saves. He only gave up one goal in the second half in the waning minutes when Maryland already led 11-5. The Tigers had one offensive explosion in the second half but went nearly 40 minutes without a goal after that burst. That, more than anything else, foretold the end of the Tiger's season.

The stars showed up for Maryland. Walters and Phipps had 2 goals a piece and Healy added a hat trick to give Maryland more than enough offense. Given Virginia's rusty performance against Notre Dame, the Terrapins have looked better than anyone during the postseason. They reach their second consecutive Final Four and will take on the cardiac kids in UMass. Sean Morris and Joe Walters will both be the stars of this match up but it will most likely be the role players who decide this contest. Maryland is a better team than UMass, but with Jack Deane at the X for the Minutemen, anything is possible. Just ask Hofstra.

Princeton redeems their terrible season last year. All five of their losses were to tournament teams, and they have a spectacular sophomore goalie returning next season. Look for the Tigers to be a force next season.

Only one quarterfinal game remains. The Virginia/Georgetown winner will play Syracuse next week.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

Syracuse Survives Johns Hopkins 13-12

The old saying goes, to be the champ you gotta be the champ.

Well the fifth-seeded Syracuse Orange (10-4) accomplished just that, sending the defending national champion fourth-seed Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (9-5) packing with a 13-12 victory.

Hopkins got off to the quick start when Paul Rabil took little time in knocking in the first of four goals with 11:05 remaining in the first. Brett Bucktooth responded for the Orange a minute later to notch the game back at even. Two more quick goals gave the Blue Jays a two-goal lead before former Virginia player Joe Yevoli rocketed in his first of two goals to cut the gap back to one. Mike Leveille then added his first of four goals for the Orange to deadlock the score at 3. Greg Peyser of the Blue Jays would have the last laugh, scoring with 2:40 left in the quarter and gave the Blue Jays an early lead after the first.

The second quarter belonged to Syracuse. The Orange scored 5 of the 6 goals in the quarter, 3 of which were by Leveille. The Orange outshot the Blue Jays 25-14 in the first half. This compiled with some lackluster defensive efforts to give the Orange a substantial 8-5 lead at the half.

If the UMass game had proven anything, it was that no lead was safe. Hopkins responded brilliantly in the second half, taking advantage of some Orange mistakes and scoring on two consecutive EMO to cut the gap to 1. Unlike Hofstra however, the Orange responded to the pressure and tallied four straight goals to give the Orange a five goal lead with 8:57 remaining.

If that sounds familiar, so will this. Hopkins charged back, eight seconds off the goal by the Orange, Stephen Peyser knocked in a goal off the faceoff. The X was a place where Hopkins dominated, winning 21 of 29 opportunities. Yet they could not take advantage of the ball control. Jake Byrne knocked in a goal with 5:25 to make it 12-9 Syracuse. Brian Crockett answered getting a huge and critical goal to extend the lead to four yet again. A last minute charge by Hopkins featured two more goals to take it back to 13-11. With less than two minutes to go, Hopkins had a shot but the Syracuse D held tough. They were relentless in denying the Blue Jays a goal. With less than a minute to go, the Hopkins offense grew tenative and when they finally got the goal, there remained only 5.5 second in the game. While the Blue Jays had stolen victory from Virginia with seconds remaining last year, they proved unable to do it this time around. Syracuse withstood a strong charge, and will return to Philadelphia.

Injuries have mired Syracuse's season. A 1-5 start made many wonder whether the Orange would even make the tournament. They've earned their spot now and it's thanks to leaders like Brett Bucktooth and Mike Leveille. The Orange are the hottest team in the country, and have now avenged a loss earlier in the season to Johns Hopkins.

For Hopkins, their chance of a repeat are officially over. Despite having what many consider a down year, the Blue Jays still showed a lot of poise and promise. With many talented players gaining a year of experience, along with a great recruiting class, expect Johns Hopkins to take its place among the elites of lacrosse once again.

A great Saturday, Sunday's matchups will have a lot to live up to.

LACROSSE SPECIAL: UMass upsets Hofstra

Forget N.C. State, the real cardiac kids are the Massachusetts Minutemen.

Against 6th seeded Cornell, the Minutemen were down 3-0 early. They battled back, tying and taking the lead late in the game to pick up the improbable 10-9 victory. Today it was deja vu all over again.

The 3rd seeded Hofstra Pride came into the game with the most wins in the country (17-1). The Pride looked to win the most lacrosse games in the history of the sport and got off to a good start when they too were up 3-0 in the first quarter. Tewaarton Trophy finalist Chris Unterstein proved his worthiness when he recorded his first of four goals with 8:20 left in the first quarter. However, just like last week, UMass responded with a two-goal flurry to end the first quarter only down a goal 3-2.

Unterstein responded with two consecutive goals. The second one resulted in an awkward fall afterwards, benching the star player for the remainder of the half with a bad headache. Mike Unterstein, Chris's brother took over where his brother had left off scoring his second goal and giving Hofstra a 6-2 lead.

Fellow Tewaarton finalist, UMass's Sean Morris scored his first goal with 7:51 to cut the deficit back to 3. Minutes later it was Jim Connolly, who finished with a game high 5 goals knocked in one to cut the gap to 2. However, Hofstra responded with a late minute goal to end the first half up 7-4.

UMass battled back quickly with a goal by Connolly in the opening minute of the second half off the faceoff. The Minutemen's victory started right at the X, where they dominated the faceoff circle. However, after cutting the gap back to two UMass could not make the next step. A costly crease violation, some uncharacteristic turnovers and the Minutemen appeared unable cut the gap further. A costly penalty on the Minutemen defense gave the Pride an EMO which they capitalized on. Moments later, Unterstein returned in the middle of the third quarter and less than a minute later he scored to give the Pride a 9-5 lead.

Both teams stepped up their defense and a long drought started until Joe Keysor rocketed in a shot with 9:46 to play to give the Hofstra Pride a 10-5 edge. The game appeared in hand, after all, the Minutemen would have to score in 9 minutes what they had in done in 3 1/2 quarters. The faceoff circle however proved to be the turning point to an amazing comeback.

After the timeout, UMass called a timeout a won the faceoff. Hofstra cleared but turned the ball over and Jamie Yaman scored his 15th goal of the season with 8:03 left.

Jake Deane won the next faceoff for the Minutemen and a key groundball gave Morris the edge and the goal to cut it to 3 with 7:27.

Another faceoff victory by Deane and it was Connolly scoring in less than a minute to cut it to 10-8 and completely turn the momentum upside down.

Hofstra called a timeout at 6:29 to try and calm nerves. UMass won the faceoff but the Pride defense held. Hofstra however was unable to clear in time and were forced to give the ball up. It took only 30 seconds for UMass to respond and score yet another goal. It was 4 goals in a span of 5:32.

UMass won the faceoff again! This time the defense once again held and Hofstra attempted to run the clock. An errant pass however showed how much momentum had changed. UMass got the ball back but Hofstra proved formidable again. However, a critical offsides mistake by Hofstra gave it back to the hot Minutemen yet again with 1:41 to go. The Minutemen picked up a key ground ball and with 49 seconds left it was Rory Pedrick, scoring just his 11th goal of the season to tie the game up and force a completely unexpected overtime.

In the extra session, Jake Deane won another faceoff for his Minutemen but they were unable to get the golden goal. Hofstra called a timeout with two minutes to go in overtime but Dan Whipple picked up the ground ball for UMass and was able to clear the ball, giving his team another chance. That was all they needed. Connolly took a strong feed from Brett Garber and capped off an amazing run when he scored with 1:53 on the clock. UMass won 11-10 in overtime. For UMass, it was an amazing finish, taking them to their first Final Four in school history. For Hofstra it was absolute heartbreak. A five goal lead with 9:46 to go was completely wasted away. The only team to beat Hofstra in the regular season did it again, and it was thanks to Jack Deane who won 20 of the 25 faceoffs in the game. The Pride had a chance to reach their first Final Four in school history, as well as winning more games in a season than any other team. Instead, they are left with disappointment. They remain unable to beat their rival UMass. Perhaps as disappointing as the faceoff circle was the inability of attacker Athan Iannucci to score a single point. Iannucci is the leading scorer in the country with a preposterous 83. However, when it mattered most he could only mount one missed shot and two ground balls.

UMass goes to Philadelphia next weekend and will play the winner of the Maryland/Princeton game who do battle this Sunday.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Lesson Learned

The game that shall not be mentioned.

If you're a Virginia fan, than the Fordham 62-60 loss in mid-December is a game one likes to forget. Singletary didn't play, that is enough of an excuse right there...right?

Fordham finished well in the A-10 (9-7), a conference that had a particularly down year. Still the Rams had a record of 1-6 when they played the Cavaliers, and it was a match that Virginia should never have lost. With Singletary out, the impetus was on co-captain J.R. Reynolds to fill the void. Instead Reynolds scored just 8 points on 2-8 shooting and had 4 turnovers. He was far from a leader and Virginia fans were left anticipating another season in the bottom of the ACC ranks. This wasn't new though for Reynolds. Many people wondered if the drill sergeant technique of Dave Leitao would work for the junior shooting guard. He had struggled off and on throughout the season to this point, let alone his entire career. He seemed visibly frustrated out there. Some people wondered if Reynolds even had the game to make it in the ACC. Well, Fordham might have been a loss on paper for the Cavaliers but it was a win for the program.

Since then, it's been goodbye old Reynolds and hello new. J.R. has scored in double figures every game since the debacle. He has become Singletary's wingman and together the dynamic duo made mincemeat of every backcourt they played this year. Reynolds shining moment came against the Boston College Eagles where he scored 28 points. He had also had two highlight reel shots with a Redick-distance 3-pointer and a pull away dunk en route to a Virginia drubbing of the newest ACC member. As a result, the man questioned about his merits to be in the ACC made the third-team all ACC list.

More than his skills, it is his leadership that has people impressed. One man in particular that Reynolds has pushed all year long has been Laurynas Mikalauskas. The freshman from Lithuania was not highly touted nor very polished. Yet, in his first year at Virginia, the power forward stepped up his game to the delight of his coach and the fans. Just look at the groups on facebook, or the ecstasy in fans voices when Lars nails a baby hook. His progress has inspired the fans and his teammates. Pushing people to do their best should be old hat. It worked for him, now Reynolds is making sure it works for everyone else on this team.

Time will tell just how good he learned his lesson.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Down but never out

When Sean Singletary goes under the knife to fix his injured hip it will be like peeling back years of abuse and pain.

Last season Singletary reaggravated a hip injury he had had since high school in a road contest against Georgia Tech. He sat out for the next game, Fordham, only to see his team completely fall apart without their leader and lose 63-60. As a result Singletary stepped up and played despite immense pain and mobility issues. He was the difference however, taking a team destined for the ACC cellar and earning a 7-9 conference record along with a spot on the 1st string all-ACC team for it's co-captain, something that had not been done in over a decade.

So do you think he's going to let surgery slow him down?

After two years of frustration things are slowly beginning to come into place for the Philadelphia, Pa. star who turned down offers from major programs like UConn and now plays for one of its former assistant coaches, Dave Leitao. It must have been hard for Singletary looking at what he gave up to come to Charlottesville, but now he has a chance to put the Cavaliers back on the national stage. His star power is undeniable, ESPN said earlier this year if Singletary played on a top 25 team he'd be a household name. Who could blame them? Singletary has started to make the extraordinary routine. His slashing ability in the paint, his ability to dsitribute under pressure and to make clutch shots like its shoot around shows just what a phenom he is.

With their new guide Leitao, Virginia will move into the John Paul Jones Arena, light years beyond the lovable but old-fashioned clam-shaped U-Hall. Will the bigger stage relate to a bigger national presence? It will if Singletary has anything to say about it.

Singletary showed flashes of brilliance his freshman year. His 15 points, 8 assists and 6 steals against 10th ranked Arizona gave Virginia won if its biggest wins in the past four years. He played toe-to-toe with some of the top point guards in the country. His sophomore year however, Singletary showed something even more impressive: leadership. If he's not barking orders or making clutch shots, than he is rushing to the basket drawing contact and getting to the line. Singletary refuses to lose, even with the odds stacked against the "6 feet on a good day" PG.

Nevertheless, losing is what Virginia has become accustomed too. It's been 5 years since Virginia last sniffed the NCAA tournament, despite Singletary's meteoric rise in the program and in the nation, his team has never finished with a winning record. That looks to change next year with a new crop of freshmen to provide much needed depth. Singletary wanted to work on his game in the interim but will be forced to rehab instead. That's okay, pain is nothing to Singletary.

Losing however, is excruciating.