As Quint Kessenich said on Twitter Sunday, “Sometimes teams are coached to win games in March, but that ultimately costs them games in April.”
The question is, who are those teams? If we weren’t sure headed into this weekend, we at least have an idea now. Duke dominates Virginia, Maryland shuts down Hopkins, the Tar Heel offense continues to gel and improve, and Loyola sits atop the national polls after a gritty win against growing power Denver.
Duke vs. Virginia
The Blue Devils peaking at the right time comes as no surprise to those who pay attention. Since arriving at Duke, John Danowski has developed a reputation for slow starts to the season, only to see his teams grow all the way into Memorial Day weekend in each of his 5 seasons. Two of those appearances led to the national final, and in 2010 Duke took home the title.
The Blue Devil offense gets better each week. Josh Dionne netted four goals in the victory against UVA (in a row), and Jordan Wolf contributed six points. But the anchor of this team is coming from the defensive side of the ball, with senior C.J. Costabile scooping up 93 ground balls and winning 54% of his faceoffs. The addition of former Syracuse goaltending great John Galloway to the coaching staff has proved its worth throughout the season, as goalie Dan Wigrizer’s performances are becoming more consistent. He shined against Virginia (though the Cavs did not shoot particularly well).
Virginia looked like a shell of itself on Friday night. The ‘Hoos have been plagued by Duke in recent memory, winning only one of the last 13 meetings, but that’s no excuse for the #1 team in the country to simply fold the way they did. Whatever Steele Stanwick’s injury may be, it proved to be a serious problem for the Cavaliers, as they were unable to get any sufficient offensive movement, and their lack of depth was exposed.
Goalie Rob Fortunato kept the game reasonable, but if Virginia hopes to make a run to Boston this year, they are going to need better contributions from their second and third midfield lines, and will have to figure out who can run the offense if an ailing Stanwick is unable to penetrate defenses.
Side note: My respect for John Danowski skyrocketed this weekend, after he made two extremely classy and respectful moves during the game. The first came as UVA midfielder Colin Briggs was injured. The referees did not blow the whistle for him to get off the field, and as he limped to the sideline, Duke was presented with an impromptu extra-man opportunity. Danowski took the high road and held the ball until Virginia was able to substitute for Briggs. Then, as time was running out in the game, Danowski was visibly upset as Duke pumped in an extra goal, and cameras caught the head coach telling his players “no shots”. As any coach will tell you, this is a very respectful move.
The oldest rivalry in lacrosse needed no introduction on Saturday night at Homewood, but apparently somebody forgot to tell the offenses. The Terps haven’t been a particularly fast-paced offense this year, but have scored when they need it, and gave probably their best overall performance of the year against Hopkins. With a stifling defensive effort that held Hop to only 13 SOG in the game, a 6 goal run in the second half was enough to give Maryland the 9-6 victory.
This Maryland team is looking more and more poised to make a run just as they did last season. The Terps’ shutout of Hopkins in the fourth quarter is the fourth time this season they have held an opponent scoreless in the final period. Offensively, if Virginia is proving it’s lack of depth, then Maryland is exposing how many contributors they really have. Names like Snider, Haus, Gribbin, Chanenchuk, Shakespeare, and Bernhardt are all mixed in with the consistent efforts of Cooper, Blye, and Cummings to make this Maryland offense a dangerous one heading into May.
Johns Hopkins is harder to read. A slow start from the midfield this season had some people questioning this Blue Jay team. But consecutive wins over Syracuse and Virginia had them at the top of the national polls until a rising UNC team knocked them off. Those ‘Cuse and Virginia wins while still big, are proving less valuable of late. 13 SOG is unacceptable for coach Pietramala, and if this team wants to win moving forward, they will need better efforts from midfielders Ranagan, Greeley, Coppersmith, and Guida. Hopefully the freshman Stanwick will continue to improve at attack, as Senior Chris Boland appears not to have fully recovered from his early season shoulder injury.
Counting JHU out of the race is never a good idea, however. We will find out as they visit current #1 Loyola on 4/28.
My dark horse pick for the championship this year, the Tar Heels are beginning to find their stride. At first their win this weekend against Hofstra does not appear great. But Hofstra is a team with 4 one-goal losses on the season, and is better than many people think, especially offensively. Trailing almost the entire game, UNC found a way to score at the right times, and lately has performed more in line with the amount of talent on their roster.
Anytime you have a two time All-American and the reigning ACC rookie of the year on the bench there is either something wrong… or you just have a ton of talent. Such is the case for Carolina as Princeton graduate Jack McBride and Sophomore Nicky Galasso are playing off the bench right now. Galasso is still nursing a foot injury, but remains a threat for the Heels on EMO situations.
The UNC attack of Holman, Bitter, and Sankey has been lethal lately, and with solid defensive efforts led by Mark Staines and goalie Steven Rastivo the Heels’ youth is the only thing stopping them from getting to Boston. A team that started the season with more turnovers than goals is now turning into a deadly force. They are my pick to win against reeling Virginia on Friday in the ACC tournament.
The Greyhounds are a perfect 11-0 and ranked #1 in the nation for the first time since 1999, when they entered the NCAA tournament at 12-0. Assuming they don’t overlook Hobart this weekend, the matchup with Hopkins on 4/28 could be one of the biggest games of the year. Who would’ve thought?
With wins over Duke and Denver, Loyola is not quite untested, but also largely has not competed against the best this year. Still, 42 and 36 points respectively from Mike Sawyer and Eric Lusby is nothing to scoff at. Their offense has been consistent for sure, and defensive efforts have been solid, but will need to improve if they are going to make it through May. J.P Dalton is winning just over 56% of his faceoffs, which bodes well for the Greyhounds moving forward.
Personally I would love to see Loyola plunge deep into the tournament this year. It is great for the sport when different teams make it to Memorial Day.