A little more than 10 miles separate Johnny Unitas Stadium in Townson, Maryland, and M&T Stadium in downtown Baltimore, where the Women's and Men's championships will be held. The Baltimore area will be ground zero for the lacrosse world this weekend.
So in between bites of Boog's Barbeque and Chesapeake Bay blue crabs, check out 10 things you need to know about the upcoming championship matches.
To say the Atlantic Coast Conference is well represented at the lacrosse championships is a bit of an understatement. Of the eight Division I programs in Baltimore, six spent the 2014 regular season slugging it out in the ACC. It's really nothing new: the ACC has won 13 NCAA titles since 1971 (23 if you add new member Syracuse), while 14 times since 1982 an ACC women's program has hoisted the trophy.
Among the women's national semifinal partcipants are Maryland, Syracuse, and Virginia. That trio has combined to win 13 NCAA titles -- Maryland owns 10 of those, including seven in a row from 1995-01. The fourth participant this weekend, Northwestern, also has ACC ties. The Wildcats, coached by former Maryland player Kelly Amonte Hiller, have won seven of the last nine NCAA titles. The women of the ACC are 37-5 against non-league opponents.
"It just shows that the ACC is a premiere conference," said Syracuse women's head coach Gary Gait on Monday. "[The ACC] is a lot fun to play in; it gives you a lot of experience for the [championship weekend]."
The always-changing conference landscape takes another turn next season. Maryland will join Northwestern in the Big Ten Conference, which announced last June that men's and women's lacrosse will open for business in 2014-15.
Duke's run to the 2013 men's title started with Brendan Fowler. As a junior, he was one of the nation's top face-off men. In the championship game win against Syracuse, Fowler faced-off against six different Syracuse players and won 20 of 28 draws. Duke head coach Jon Danowski has the luxury of having Fowler at the face-off X once again for championship weekend 2014. Of the 497 face-offs taken by the Blue Devils this spring, Fowler has been the man 459 times, winning 60 percent.
Denver will primarily send out Chris Hampton, a sophomore who has won 52 percent of his draws.
"If Brendan [Fowler] is not the finest he is certainly one of the top one or two," said Denver head coach Bill Tierney. "He carried his team to a championship last year; he is a monster. But (Chris) Hampton can scrap too. The face-off is a unique aspect of our game, a very important part of it."
The other men's semifinal will feature two more solid "X" men - Notre Dame's Liam O'Connor and Maryland's Charlie Raffa. In the Terps' quarterfinal win over Bryant, Raffa out-dueled the nation's top-rated face-off man, Kevin Massa. The health of Raffa will be a question up until game time.
"[Charlie] has been banged up most of the year," said Maryland head coach John Tillman. "We will take it day-to-day and see where he is; if he can't go we are completely confident in John Garino."
Fowler and Raffa both honed their face-off skills playing high school lacrosse on Long Island. They are quite familiar with each other to say the least.
Best of the best
College lacrosse's version of the Heisman is the Tewaarton Trophy, given to the top male and female player after the conclusion of the NCAA championships. As is usually the case, a number of finalists will participate in championship weekend. The women's semifinals will feature four of the five nominees - Syracuse's Kayla Treanor and Alyssa Murray and Maryland's Taylor Cummings and Megan Douty.
A native of Niskayuna, New York, Treanor leads the nation in scoring with 107 points on 73 goals and 34 assists. Orange head coach Gary Gait calls Treanor, just a sophomore, the top attacker in women's lacrosse. Murray, a senior from West Babylon, New York, was a Tewaarton finalist in 2013 and has 97 points entering Friday's semifinal. Murray quarterbacks the SU attack.
Douty, from Fair Haven, New Jersey, was voted the ACC's Defensive Player of the Year. She led a Terps defense that allowed just eight goals per game in the nation's top league. Cummings, a sophomore from Ellicott City, Maryland, is an exceptional two-way player with 59 goals and 116 draw controls. Cummings had five goals in Maryland's quarterfinal win against Duke last weekend.
Of the men's finalists, only Duke senior attackman Jordan Wolf remains in the field. With 59 goals, Wolf, from Wynnewood, Pennsylvania, scored 58 goals in 2013 and was a big part of the Blue Devils' run to the NCAA title. Only Princeton midfielder Tom Schreiber, also a Tewaarton finalist, was taken before Wolf in the Major League Lacrosse Collegiate Draft on Jan. 10.
Northwestern's record at the NCAA championships is hard to believe. In sixteen tournament appearances, NU is 37-8 with seven titles and one runner-up finish in the last nine seasons. At the 2013 championships, the Wildcats lost in the semifinals to eventual champion North Carolina. Head coach Kelly Amonte Miller won two NCAA titles as a player at Maryland. In 2005 and 2009, the Wildcats completed undefeated seasons while winning the big prize.
Speaking of familiar territory ... Jon Danowski's Duke Blue Devils are in the NCAA semifinals for an eighth consecutive year. The last team to repeat at the Division I men's tournament? Syracuse in 2008 and 2009. Despite an injury to offensive star Josh Dionne last weekend and senior defender Luke Duprey during the regular season, the Blue Devils will be a tough out.
"Each team takes its particular journey in different ways," said Danowski on Monday. "It really isn't a goal of ours to be here at the end of the year, the goal is to work hard every day."
Even without Dionne, a senior who scored 47 goals and dished out seven assists, Duke has plenty of firepower. Senior Jordan Wolf might just win the Tewaarton Trophy; Myles Jones, a mammoth 6-foot-5, 240-pounder is a rising star; Class Diemer, Case Matheis, Kyle Turri in goal, and Brendan Fowler at the X, with 29-year-old former Army Ranger Casey Carroll an inspirational leader on and off the field.
Denver's Pioneers began playing lacrosse in 1965. In 1999, DU became part of Division I. A decade later, legendary Princeton boss Bill Tierney went west and lacrosse has not been the same since. After winning six NCAA titles for the Tigers, Tierney has taken the Pioneers to the NCAA Championships five consecutive seasons, including semifinal appearances in 2014, 2013, and 2011. A year ago, the Pioneers lost to Syracuse 9-8 in Philadelphia.
Like Duke, Denver has plenty of offensive weapons in Canadians Wesley Berg and Jeremy Noble, and Jack Bobzien, Zack Miller, and Erik Adamson. But it has been the defense that has received the most attention. DU has allowed eleven goals in two NCAA games, holding North Carolina to five in the first round. Nine consecutive opponents have been held to less than 10 goals.
Notre Dame lost in the 2010 NCAA finals. South Bend, Indiana by far, would have been the farthest west of any champion. Might the trophy make its way to the Rocky Mountains in 2014?
Home field advantage
Obviously, Maryland's men's and women's squads will have some extra support this weekend playing close to home. Although dangerously close to Delaware, Salisbury's Sea Gulls might also claim home field advantage. Salisbury, located two hours southeast of Baltimore, has won four of the five DIII championships held in Baltimore. The other was won by Tufts, Salisbury's opponent on Sunday. Twice, Salisbury and Tufts have played for a national championship in MT&T Stadium.
One more step
Limestone, located in South Carolina, won the NCAA Division II men's title in 2002. Since, the Saints have been bridesmaids five times, including 2012 when they lost to Dowling, 11-10, in the title tilt. Limestone also suffered heartbreak in the 2004 and 2005 Division II championship finals, losing in double overtime to Le Moyne and triple overtime to NYIT, respectively. In the 2013 NCAA semifinals, Mercyhurst sent Limestone packing with an 18-17 overtime setback.
Entering the title game against LIU Post, Limestone is 18-1 and lead by Canadians Mike Messinger, a 6-foot-2 bull, and Todd Nakasuji, the NCAA's Elite 89 Award winner in 2013, who both have 64 points.
Baltimore has played host to the NCAA championships in men's lacrosse five times (2003, 2004, 2007, 2010, 2011). The 2007 gathering brought 137,669 fans, a tournament record with the 48,443 for the championship game the second-highest total behind 2008's 48,970 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. The state of Maryland has hosted the championships 15 times dating to 1971.
Although Notre Dame ended Albany's run in the 2014 NCAA championships last weekend, the lacrosse world is still a buzz about Lyle, Miles, and Ty Thompson. The last month has seen stories in the New York Times, on ESPN and CBS World News. Lyle and Miles are brothers from the Onondaga reservation, while cousin Ty is from the Akwesasne-Mohawk reservation, also located in New York. Lyle finished his junior season with an NCAA record 128 points, tying the national record of 77 assists; Miles tied the NCAA single-season goals record with 82 and finished with 119 points, second behind his brother on the all-time list. Ty had 41 goals in 2014.
All three represent a Native American culture that should be credited with the foundation of the sport of lacrosse in the United States and Canada. No doubt, Lyle Thompson's name will surface a time or two this weekend.