Fast start to the college lax season
Editor's note: Each week, 2005 Tewaaraton winner and four-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star Kyle Harrison and former Virginia Cavaliers All-American and MLL All-Star Brett Hughes will use this space to debate college lacrosse's biggest storylines.
How do teams approach the start of the season?What did your teams do to prepare -- start with an easy win, a scrimmage, or come out of the gates and make a statement? Which do you think is the best way to do it?
Harrison: Well, this is definitely a touchy question because the game is changing so much. I don't think there are any easy wins anymore (just look at Duke's 11-7 loss to Notre Dame on Feb. 20), so once the regular season starts, teams need to be ready to go. Clearly, offensive and defensive schemes are still being worked on, chemistry is still being built and teams are still finding their identities at the beginning of the season, but you've got to bring your A-game (whatever it looks like at that particular time) every time you step on the field. Everybody usually starts their season by late February/early March, so there's no real hiding and scheduling "easy" games. You also can't pack your schedule with too many scrimmages because you don't want your players getting banged up after six scrimmages and being injured for the regular season. So, I'd say the best way to do it would be get all your guys back at school for a class during the winter break, and have dudes bond, work out and keep their games tight. This way, when practice starts mid-January, you can go through preseason, go through the scrimmages and then be ready to go to work when the regular season starts. What do you think Hughey?
Hughes: Harri, I love the way the season started -- some upsets, a few games closer than I thought and most of the big dogs getting by at the beginning of the year, which is an easy time to get knocked off. Thinking about the approach of the season brings back memories of long sleeves and preseason practice. It was only hard because you wanted to play so bad. I think the most important thing is for a coach to get his team to think about themselves. With all the hype about certain players and rankings, it is hard not to look around the country and try to match rankings with your schedule and expectations. Frankly, none of it matters because you have to play the whole season, and you can't do anything about the first game 'til that whistle blows on opening day. So stay focused, gentlemen. My senior year, we let the NCAA championship from the previous year sneak in and didn't get that chemistry we needed from the get-go and got ourselves behind the league. Even a very talented team can drop games early when they don't come prepared to fight and fight for one another.
How much do early results matter?Harrison: As long as you don't drop four or five in row, I think they don't mean anything come May. I've seen teams drop five midseason, get to May and run the table. So, I don't mind a team dropping a few early on in the season, but getting better each game and learning from their mistakes.
Hughes: Well, I don't think a mark in the loss column hurts all that much unless it starts to break the team's confidence in itself. As long as the players work hard and stay together, it's honestly sometimes a humbling, one-time lesson that can set the tone for a great season -- and the best teams don't really take the field until April and May.
Biggest surprise of the season so far?Hughes: I'd guess Duke's loss to Notre Dame. It is early, but that team had just beaten Team USA. Maybe they got ahead of themselves, maybe they were just not ready to play maybe the Irish are just that good. But I'd have to say winning against the best our nation could put together and then losing to Notre Dame doesn't seem to make sense. Welcome to college lacrosse, it just goes to show that this sport is getting better.
Harrison: Yeah, Notre Dame's win over Duke was definitely a big one, without a doubt. My biggest surprise of the season is Princeton putting up 17 goals on Hofstra. (The Tigers won 17-14 on Saturday.) Since when are the Tigers lighting up the scoreboard like that? New coach Chris Bates has definitely put together a different offense than I'm used to seeing from Princeton, but I'm digging it!
Best performance so far?Hughes: Well, how about the rebound effort from Duke's Max Quinzani netting six against Penn on Saturday? Kyle, we have seen him do this for a while now. And let's not forget Connor Martin, who plays club lacrosse for Southern California's Chapman University -- that kid seems to be eating people up. He is the real deal out on the West Coast.
Harrison: There have been some solid performances so far, but I'm not really sure if I want to give out too much credit yet. The Maryland-Georgetown game last weekend was definitely a good one. I was happy to see Terps attackman Will Yeatman step up and score three huge goals for his team in the second half -- part of a 7-0 run that erased Georgetown's lead and gave Maryland a solid road win. I was also impressed with a few Hofstra freshmen in their loss to Princeton. We've seen a few big performances thus far, but I'm interested to see who performs in the big games this weekend. The games thus far -- most, not all -- have been considered tune-up games for a lot of teams. It's time for the real thing this weekend.
Game you're looking forward to this weekend?Harrison: Sorry, got to go with Saturday's Johns Hopkins-Princeton (ESPNU, 1:30 p.m. ET) showdown, part of the Face-Off Classic at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore. I loved playing in it back in college, and it's Hop's first test of the young season. (Princeton beat a tough Hofstra team last weekend.)
Hughes: I'll go with the third game in the Face-Off Classic: Notre Dame-Loyola. I think it will answer some questions. Loyola has some ballers, and ND is trying to make a name for itself early in the season. I am excited to see what happens.
Pop QuizHughes: Kyle, if you couldn't have gone to Hopkins or another Division I school, where would you have gone? I was just up in Palo Alto, Calif., recently. Stanford needs a Division I men's lax team, stat. Otherwise, I keep hearing Austin, Texas, is the spot. I always wanted to get recruited to play football at Texas just so I could have seen the Longhorns logo on a recruiting letter.
Harrison: Good question, that's a tough one. I'm thinking it would have been a USC-type situation so I could watch big-time football and be in good weather. As for you and you wanting to see a Longhorns logo on a recruiting letter, I can't hate, that would have been hot.
Brett Hughes is the lacrosse editor of ESPNRISE.com, ESPN's high school sports site. Check out his blog.
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