Championship weekend has ACC flair
Editor's note: Each week, 2005 Tewaaraton winner, four-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. Biggest surprise of the NCAA tournament?
Hughes: The biggest surprise would have to be Syracuse not showing up. Maryland played a fantastic game and made the big shot at the end in overtime. But the veteran Orange just did not show up. I saw a big lack of focus from a team that usually steps up in big spots. Syracuse is such a great team -- that's why I see it as a major surprise -- but I don't know whether we've seen a hotter team than Maryland at this point.
Harrison: I agree that the biggest surprise is that Syracuse is not in the Final Four. The seniors have been through it all (and already own two rings), so I was pretty confident they would get to championship weekend. Maryland came in with a great game plan and had a few senior leaders push it into the Final Four. While the Terps had their ups and downs all year, we knew they were more than capable of putting together a championship run. It was tough to see the Cuse seniors go out the way they did, but they should be very proud of everything they accomplished in their four years.
I would have liked to see my Hopkins boys grab a W and advance to the Final Four, but I'm not nearly as surprised as some about the Denver win. The Pioneers are well-coached and have an incredible offense -- not to mention two middies who fly up and down the field.
2. Favorite performance by a player so far?
Hughes: Hands down, it's Virginia's Steele Stanwick. The team runs through him, and he is flat-out showing that he is as good as, if not better than, everyone in the country. He absolutely has more poise than anyone I have seen in a couple of years. My other pick is Denver's Mark Matthews. He is a John Grant-style player in that he can take over a game and has great stick protection. Not saying he is that good, but he could be. He has been fun to watch and will be a huge test for Virginia. And a shoutout to Maryland's Ryan Young -- he just keeps making plays. I believe he gives the Terps MD more confidence than anyone else in the field.
Harrison: It pains me to give Virginia too much credit, but what Steele Stanwick did last Saturday was the best performance of the tournament thus far. Everything ran through him on the offensive side of the field, and he completely controlled the tempo of the game. From seeing him step up with a few big goals in the first round to seeing him completely dominate the quarterfinal game distributing the ball, Stanwick has been the best player of the tournament thus far.
3. What are the keys to Virginia-Denver?
Hughes: Virginia has to contain Matthews and shoot smart on Denver's stud goalkeeper, Jamie Faus. Denver needs to get shots in early before keeper Adam Ghitelman gets hot. The Pioneers also have to find an answer for Stanwick and Chris Bocklet. Both are obvious, but they'll be important. Both goalies can get hot and cold. Denver coach Bill Tierney is about as familiar as anyone with championship weekend, but can he instill in his players his moxy? I give Virginia, with its experience, an advantage playing on this big of a stage.
Harrison: I think it's important for Denver's middies to get up and down the field. Those guys are athletic and can make plays on both ends of the field. Once they're in transition, they're tough to stop. I'm excited to see what Tierney comes up with to handle Stanwick. The former Princeton coach knows what it takes to be successful on championship weekend, and I'm certain he'll have a game plan ready. If the Pioneers stop Stanwick, it's going to be a long day for Virginia. I'm looking to see what DU midfielder Cameron Flint will do on the big stage. That kid can flat-out fly.
4. What are the keys to Duke-Maryland?
Hughes: In this rubber match between the ACC foes, the key is for neither team to out-think itself. Maryland cannot let Zach Howell take over or leave Jordan Wolf without a slide man. Duke is a fantastic team that is simply tough to beat; the Blue Devils find ways to win and stay in most games. Goalie play is big. Although Dan Wigrizer got lit up early in the season against Syracuse, he was on fire last weekend and has last year's championship under his belt. Maryland has so many weapons. I like seeing Joe Cummings attack from behind, so the key is to get three or four of the Terps' players rolling. Their defense has been fierce; they just need to clamp down and help each other out.
Harrison: It's going to be an exciting matchup of two teams that are very familiar with each other. The Terps are really scary right now, as they are just starting to believe in themselves and their ability. Ryan Young and Grant Catalino are a lethal combination, and Maryland's defense is stingy. Duke definitely has some playmakers on both sides of the ball and clearly has the experience of playing on the big stage. I'm going with Maryland in a tight one.
5. What are you most excited for on championship weekend?
Hughes: I love that first faceoff in the championship game. There's so much excitement, with all the former players coming back and taking part in the growth of the sport. I'm excited to see Denver shock the world. The Pioneers have two games left in what is one of the most remarkable runs in memory. And for Tierney to add to an already incredible legacy.
Harrison: I'm excited to see what Denver brings to the table. The Pioneers are clearly well-coached and have talented players but have never been on this stage before. Tierney will have them ready to go, and I can't wait to see how they play. I'm also very curious to see how Maryland comes out. It was a very emotional win last weekend against Syracuse. Will the Terps be able to muster the same amount of emotion and energy this week?
Also, if you're at the Final Four, make sure to come say hello to me at the Universal Lacrosse and STX tent.
Hughes: I'd like to take a sentence to say congratulations to my former coach (actually, he will always be my coach) Dom Starsia for setting the all-time wins record. He has been such a positive man in my life, and his heart and passion for the sport and those who play it are second to none. I'm so happy to see him grab such a massive accomplishment, even though I know he is more excited about a shot at NCAA championship No. 4 for UVa.
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