I only got to watch one of the eight NCAA Division I Lacrosse Tournament First Round games live this weekend. I was in New York with my sister (think of the female opposite of my hairy, often sweaty mess of ManBearPig self) and after a light jog to sweat out maybe 1/50th of all we drank the night before we were seated at Hop Devil Grill for the now infamous beerunch (you know, because we needed more excuses to drink cheap booz). Luckily the Hop Devil not only believes in great beers (and mimosas…and bloody mary’s) but they believe in ESPN2’s glorious propensity to show NCAA Championship tournaments not named basketball or football (wait…). My sister and I hunkered down for some much needed food and the first round game between Hofstra and Hopkins, a game I had circled as a surprisingly tough 3 seed versus 14 seed match-up coming in.
You see, in a 16 team tournament you usually have good team records across the board, but a 13-2 Hofstra squad at the 14 spot was still surprising. Hofstra’s record was a bit deceiving coming in, as they didn’t play anyone in the top 10 (before Hopkins) and went 3-2 against top 20 teams (going 0-2 against the one NCAA tournament team they played in Delaware). When you consider that ACC champion Maryland had to go on the road in the first round (to play another ACC team no less!) it may not be so crazy that the 13 win Pride got such a low seed and subsequently tough draw. Still, I was expecting a nice little blood feud between the pre-eminent powers in their respective lacrosse hot beds (Hopkins from Maryland, Hofstra from Long Island).
Still, while great defense (particularly under coach Dave Pietremala as both a coach and player) has been a staple of Hopkins teams for decades they haven’t always had this many prolific scorers at one time. Don’t get me wrong, the Hop has produced some great offensive players at the midfield position with guys like Kyle Harrison, Paul Rabil, Stephen Peyser and Mike Kimmel in recent years. They’ve even had a couple of great attackmen in guys like Conor Ford and Kevin Huntley. But I doubt they’ve ever had a group this unbelievable at the attack position all at the same time. It starts with Chris Boland (2 goals, 3 assists against Hofstra), who after an injury last year is living up to the billing he came into JHU with back in 2007 (he also led the team in scoring in 2009). He leads the team in scoring with 48 points but is closely followed by another attackman in Zach Palmer, a Canadian product with 46 points (24 of which are, surprisingly, assists). Finally, Kyle Wharton (their captain) rounds out the stellar attack crew with 39 points, giving the group 135 points on the year through 15 games. That’s nine points a game combined in a balanced offense that complements the traditionally stingy defense.
Well, the boys did it again on Saturday against Hofstra. After being stymied a bit in the first half by a physical Pride defense (more on that later…) JHU came out firing in the third quarter, quickly mounting a nice lead. Meanwhile the Pride could only generate one more goal on offense…for the entire game.
The third quarter heavily featured a nice display of the third and final key to the Jay’s resurgent season. The Hop took 14 of 21 faceoffs on the day, but the 5 of 6 mark at the faceoff X in the decisive third quarter was quite possibly the biggest part of the day. It helped Hopkins keep pace with a gaudy 65% team faceoff percentage on the year, a stat mostly attributed to the success of Matt Dolente. Those possessions led to a lot of opportunities for the three stellar attackmen mentioned before, who combined for 6 goals and 5 assists on the game.
Lastly, I have to talk about the awesome uniform work done by whoever works on that kind of thing for Johns Hopkins. The schools colors (black, white and, I’m not kidding, blue jay blue) already lend themselves to some great color combos to work with but my focus this time around was on the helmets.
Is that not the baddest set of helmet decals you’ve ever seen? The powder blue helmets are already a hit in my opinion (although the black is always nice as well…) but the wing design is the best I’ve ever seen by far. When I saw those on the high def TV screen Saturday the vain lacrosse player in me (we pretty much all have insane obsession with on-field fashion) went bonkers. Tell me the Philadelphia Eagles won’t be trying to rip off that design (done by Zima Gear) when and if this lockout ever ends? If my alma mater (the Seahawks) doesn’t make a move on it in the next couple of years I will be sorely disappointed.
With the win JHU moves on to face the University of Denver (who got their first NCAA tourney win ever) in Hempstead, New York this weekend. While the Pioneers have been awesome under Bill Tierney (who has revived his career after massive success at Princeton) I think their run ends here. All those pieces of the Hopkins puzzle just fit too well together. Plus I have allegiances, sorry Denver. The other three games are Syracuse – Maryland (historical heavyweights), Notre Dame – Duke (2010 national championship game rematch) and Cornell – Virginia (look up Rob Pannel). I’m going to go with Syracuse (senior laden team and Joel White wants his third Final Four), Duke (ND already got their 2010 revenge, doesn’t have the offense and hasn’t been nearly as tested) and Cornell (Rob Pannell just wouldn’t let it end this soon…). Regardless of what happens, its shaping up to be yet another great Memorial Day weekend.
That’s all for now folks. Tune in next time for; “Skid in the Bronx? Sounds like something you’d find on the bottom of your shoe,” “You think German engineering had anything to do with this stat line: ‘48 points on 12-15 FG, 24-24 FT, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 4 blocks and a whole lotta moxie!’ (I added that last part),” and “The NFL…there’s still nothing to really report here.”