May 21, 2010

By Jon Marks
Special to

PRINCETON, NJ-On Saturday at Princeton's Palmer Stadium, Tobacco Road meets the Ivy League, while the school hoping to be the ``home'' team at next weekend's Final Four takes on one of the most celebrated names in college sports.

The NCAA Division I Men's Lacrosse Championships is full of familiar faces, but while familiarity might not breed contempt, considering the respect these programs have for each other, it definitely adds to the drama.

In the noontime opener, Notre Dame, which knocked off the host Tigers, 8-5, in last week's opening round, faces Maryland, who beat Hofstra, 11-8, in a rematch of last year's first round. At stake is a berth in the Final Four, which will be played in Baltimore, less than an hour from the Terps' College Park campus.

Following that at 2:30 p.m., those two fierce ACC rivals, Duke and North Carolina battle it out, with the No. 5-ranked Blue Devils trying to avenge an early season loss and the No. 4-rated Tar Heels trying to avoid going down to Duke in the quarterfinals for the third straight year and fourth in the last five.

``We'd lost 10 in a row to Duke before that,'' said UNC's second-year coach Joe Breschi of the Heels' 13-7 win March 6. ``To get over the hump proves we can play with them and shows we're going in the right direction.

``That win gives our guys confidence it can be done. We know they're playing better than when we played them the last time. Now we have to remember how we did it.''

For 13-4 Duke, the North Carolina game was a turning point to their season. Then 2-3, they've gone 11-1 since, destroying Johns Hopkins, 18-5, in first round play last week.

``Sometimes you need to lose to really have a gut check,'' said Duke's John Danowski, who inherited the team in 2007. ``Losing twice in four days, it was a good opportunity for our guys to search inside themselves and say 'How badly do we want to do this? How hard are we willing to work to get there?'

``Whatever happened in the past you can throw out. In fact you can say Carolina may have a little bit of the edge emotionally because they don't want to be sent home by us again.''

The Blue Devils rely on the explosive 1-2 punch of Max Quinzani and Zach Howell, who've combined for 104 goals, 61 by Quinzani. Ned Crotty, who set a school record with 57 assists, is the playmaker.

For 13-2 Carolina, which squeaked past Delaware, 14-13, last week, it's a more balanced attack,, with five players scoring at least 20 goals, topped by Thomas Wood's 28. Leading scorer Gavin Petracca (24 and 20 assists), Sean Delaney (25 goals), Marcus Holman (22) and Billy Bitter (20) are also threats, while Chris Madalon (8.28 goals against) has been solid in goal.

``We welcome the opportunity to compete against anybody in the quarterfinals,'' said Danowski, who believes his team is peaking just at the right time. ``This is a big deal, because North Carolina is a great lacrosse program.
``They have a great history, a great head coach and they're extremely talented athletes.''

Breschi, who points out ACC teams went 44-1 outside the Conference, Notre Dame's win over Duke the only blemish, feels likewise about his opponent. ``It doesn't matter if it's lacrosse or fencing,'' he said about facing the Blue Devils. ``This is an intense rivalry.

The same goes for Maryland (12-3) and Notre Dame (8-6), playing on a neutral site, rather than in South Bend like last year, where the Terps pulled off an 8-7 shocker.

``They were 15-0 and we caught them on an off day,'' said Maryland's nine-year coach Dave Cottle. ``I'm sure they'll use that as motivation.

``But we're both completely different teams. We play a little quicker tempo and transition off the ground. They're tremendous in the goal (Scott Rodgers, 7.99 G.A) and they have a tremendous defensive philosophy, with four really talented midfielders.

``We're going to have to play a great game to beat them.''

Notre Dame's Kevin Corrigan, who didn't have the same advantage as Cottle of scouting his next opponent personally, worries about the No. 3-ranked Terps' depth wearing down his team.

``They've got a terrific attack,'' said Corrigan, who's mainly concerned with Maryland's Grant Catalino (36 goals), Travis Reed (20) and Ryan Young (18), while hoping Zach Brenneman (23), Grant Krebs (22) and David Earl (20) can solve Terps' keeper Brian Phipps (8.27 G.A). ``Their defense has been good and they come at you in waves.

``They have a team that will play 30 guys.''

Since they're in opposite brackets, Saturday's winners won't be facing each other when they get to Baltimore. The Maryland vs. Notre Dame winner plays either Cornell or Army. The Duke-Carolina winner gets either top-seeded Virginia or Stony Brook.

While that might bode well down the road for Maryland as potential host school at the Final Four, Cottle doesn't want to hear it.

`` You can play ``What is' or `What if,''' he said. ``We're gonna play what is. Concentrate on what we can control .

``I have no idea if the draw benefits us or not. But we're in the process of climbing the mountain now and when you get into the NCAA playoffs , if you slip it's fatal.''