Commentary

Blue Jays, Pioneers meet in Elite Eight

Updated: May 16, 2011, 4:31 PM ET
By Mechelle Voepel | ESPN.com

Nine-time national champion Johns Hopkins always has pretty high expectations in the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament. But coach Dave Pietramala wasn't entirely sure how that would play out this season with a team that has so many underclassmen starting.

"We thought when we began working with them that we had a lot to work with," Pietramala said. "And it's turned out we were right. We do. You can never predict how quickly young guys will grow. We're depending on two sophomores and a freshman on the first midfield, and the same on the close defense. It was about how quickly we could get those guys to feel comfortable and do what they're capable of doing."

Now the Blue Jays are back in familiar territory -- the NCAA quarterfinals -- after a 12-5 first-round victory Saturday over Hofstra.

[+] EnlargeJohn Greely‎
Johns Hopkins John Greeley is one of the talented underclassmen who is flourishing for Johns Hopkins.

Sunday, Pietramala caught an early flight to Denver to scout the Pioneers' 13-10 opening-round victory over Villanova. Then it was back on the plane Sunday night for a trip home to Baltimore and the start of preparations for Denver.

The No. 3-seeded Blue Jays meet the No. 6 Pioneers at 2:30 p.m. ET on Saturday in Hempstead, N.Y., (ESPN2/ESPN3.com) a matchup that will follow No. 2 Cornell vs. No. 7 Virginia at James Shuart Stadium.

The Cavaliers, playing without standouts Shamel Bratton (dismissed) and Rhamel Bratton (suspended) for disciplinary reasons, beat Bucknell 13-12 in overtime on Sunday.

The other quarterfinals will be Sunday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass. Top-seeded Syracuse meets Maryland, which upset No. 8 North Carolina 13-6 in the first round. Then No. 4 Notre Dame faces No. 5 Duke in a rematch of last season's NCAA championship match, won by the Blue Devils. In a regular-season meeting in February, the Irish beat Duke 12-7 in Jacksonville, Fla.

We're down to an Elite Eight in which all of the teams, even unseeded Maryland, feel they have a chance at the NCAA title. Pietramala played for the 1987 Johns Hopkins team that won the national championship, and he's coached the Blue Jays to two of them (2005, '07).

Denver, in longtime Princeton coach Bill Tierney's second season with the Pioneers, is into the quarterfinals for the first time in program history. The Pioneers' first official Division I season was 1999; this is their fourth NCAA tournament appearance since.

While Denver has a senior-led defense that's played effectively enough to help get the Pioneers this far, offense has been the team's stronger suit. That's true even without senior attacker Todd Baxter, who missed Sunday's game due to injury.

"They are as well-coached a team as there is out there," Pietramala said of Tierney's Pioneers. "You're talking about a legendary coach that has a chance to take his new team to the Final Four if he wins his next game.

"So we're not just competing against that team, but a terrific coach. They are very dynamic, very athletic in the midfield in their first group. The difference in the game was both teams shot the ball well through three quarters, but I thought Denver's goalie really stepped up."

That's freshman Jamie Faus, who held the Wildcats scoreless in the final period and finished the game with 13 saves. But Johns Hopkins also has a strong young goalie in sophomore Pierce Bassett, who had nine saves against Hofstra on Saturday.

"They both play behind a somewhat similar defensive style," Pietramala said of the goalies. "The teams are support-oriented; they're trying to limit the opponent to low-percentage shots. That makes life a little easier for a young goalie. I think you saw [in Faus] a young guy in his first playoff game who was a little nervous, settled in and did a very good job. We've seen that from our guy, too."

Denver has won 11 matches in a row, while Johns Hopkins is on an eight-match winning streak.

"We're very happy with how our team is playing; we think we're starting to grow up and come into our own," Pietramala said. "This is another challenge for us. Denver is a veteran group."

In other news …

Terps women move on: Defending NCAA champion Maryland had no trouble against former coach Cindy Timchal's Navy team Saturday. The top-seeded Terps won 19-6 in the first round of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament, in which all but one seeded team advanced to the quarterfinals. Princeton upset No. 8 James Madison 11-10 and will next face Maryland.

Perfect ending: Iowa, hosting the Big Ten track and field championships in Iowa City, got a truly fantastic finish Sunday. The Hawkeyes won the conference men's title for the first time since 1967, and it came down to the final event: the 4x400 relay. Iowa's runner-up finish in that race gave the Hawkeyes enough points to edge Minnesota for the overall team title.

It was an especially sweet championship to celebrate for Iowa coach and alum Larry Wieczorek. He was a distance-running standout for the Hawkeyes the last time they won the Big Ten title 44 years ago. Ohio State won the women's title Sunday.

In other major conference track championships this past weekend, Oregon won both the men's and women's titles in the Pac-10, and Texas A&M did the same in the Big 12. In the SEC, LSU took the women's championship while Arkansas won on the men's side.

NCAA track regional competition is May 26-28, and the NCAA championships are June 8-11 in Des Moines, Iowa.

Title hopes for Tide? Top-ranked Southern Cal comes into this week's NCAA women's golf championship as the probable favorite. But considering all that the community of Tuscaloosa has been through this spring, the sentimental favorite is third-ranked Alabama.

The championship, contested among 24 teams, runs Wednesday-Saturday at Traditions Club in Bryan, Texas. Alabama won the East Regional title on May 7. Southern Cal took the West Regional, while UCLA won the Central Regional. Host school Texas A&M made the field after finishing eighth in the West Regional.

Alabama has never won the NCAA women's golf title; Southern Cal and UCLA each have won it twice. And this isn't the only spring sports national championship that Alabama is chasing -- the Crimson Tide are also the No. 2 seed in the NCAA softball bracket, which was released Sunday.

Mechelle Voepel is a columnist for ESPN.com. She can be reached at mvoepel123@yahoo.com.

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Mechelle Voepel joined ESPN.com in 1996 and covers women's college hoops, the WNBA, the LPGA, and additional collegiate sports for espnW.