First round promises tough tests
Editor's note: Each week, each week 2005 Tewaaraton winner, 4-time Major League Lacrosse All-Star, and current LXM pro player Kyle Harrison and former Virginia All-American, Major League Lacrosse All-Star and current LXM pro player Brett Hughes will use this space to debate college lacrosse's biggest storylines.
1. What was the most surprising conference tournament result?
Hughes: I'm not sure there was a surprise. Hofstra not making its own tournament is a bit nuts to me! It was great to see some good games, including Princeton-Cornell in the Ivy League championship and Mount St. Mary's-Siena in the MAAC (both were one-goal games). Delaware's winning the CAA crown was really cool to watch, as the team rallied around grieving goalie Noah Fossner, who lost his mother to breast cancer just days before. It's astonishing the guts some kids have.
Harrison: I don't think there really was a surprise in any of the conference tournaments. We got to see a few competitive games, which is always good. I would have liked to see UNC make a run at the ACC crown and take some momentum into the playoffs, but I don't think Virginia's winning the ACC really surprised anyone.
2. Which is the toughest first-round matchup?
Hughes: Mount St. Mary's faces the toughest test in top-seeded Virginia. The Mountaineers aren't alone. Duke has to take on a very stubborn Johns Hopkins team in the first round. The Blue Jays don't bow out of the NCAA tournament very easily.
Harrison: I think the toughest first-round matchup is the Hopkins-Duke game. Yes, I'm well aware that the Blue Jays have had a down year, but in recent years they've had Duke's number come playoff time. This year, Duke has definitely had a better season, but it'll be a tough one down in Durham, N.C., this weekend.
3. How much does home-field advantage help?
Hughes: Depending on the team, it could help like crazy. Syracuse, Virginia, Hopkins, Maryland, Hofstra, Duke and Denver are among the places that come to mind when I think of tough venues. Obviously, we all love playing in big stadiums with hostile environments, but when your home field is not one of these top venues, it doesn't mean as much. It actually could be better to be on the road in these hostile environments to get your blood going.
Harrison: It means everything to have home-field advantage! Sleeping in your own bed, driving your own car to the stadium, going through the routine that you've done all season long, and playing in front of your hometown fans is a beautiful thing.
4. This one's from the readers: Is it time for lax to expand the field of 16?
Hughes: Yes, bring it on. I'd love to see a huge upset -- but chances are it's not happening in the NCAA tournament. A chance to make the tournament will give some of the teams right below the top tier help with recruiting and can grow the game. Right now there are about six teams that are practically guaranteed a tournament appearance every year -- what if there were 10 or 12 teams that could say that?
Harrison: Yes! Why not extend the tournament? We've got enough talented teams at this point that those first-round games would be a good test. What would be the downside?
5. What's the most important ingredient for a successful postseason?
Hughes: Senior leadership -- or just leadership in general -- cannot be underestimated. Harri, can you name a team that dominated that didn't have a great group of leaders? I believe a hot goalie can win you a couple of games, but he can't win a playoff. Character, leadership and a never-give-up attitude are the reasons teams win. I remember when Hopkins made its run in '05 -- there was no chance that you guys were going to let the opportunity slip by you. I'd say the same thing about the team my junior year. Last year, both teams in the finals -- Cornell and Syracuse -- were full of leaders. It was not talent, it was leadership that got Cornell into the finals.
Harrison: I've got to agree. A hot goalie can take care of you, as can a great defense, but having a senior class who everyone on the team looks up to and believes in can take you straight to the championship game. I've seen it happen a number of times. My sophomore year, when we lost to Virginia in the national championship game, yeah, goalie Tillman Johnson was playing out of his mind, but that Virginia team had great senior leadership in Chris Rotelli, Billy Glading and AJ Shannon (and a few others). My senior year at Hopkins, when we won the title, it was the same thing -- nine senior leaders. Clearly, a combination of all the things -- goalie play, defense, chemistry, offensive firepower -- would be ideal, but I don't think there is any substitute for senior leadership.
Brett Hughes is the co-founder and vice president of Lacrosse the Nations. You can check out the group's work here.