Semifinals first, finals last
Competition is too tough in semifinals of championship
BALTIMORE -- "There is no Monday, just Saturday."
Wise words from Kevin Corrigan. The 26th-year head coach knows that looking ahead at this point is not wise; there is too much at stake and the competition is too tough in the semifinals of 2014 NCAA Men's Division I Lacrosse Championship.
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"Right now it's about finding a way to be one goal better that the other team at the end of the day," Corrigan said.
It will be hard to top championship weekend from a year ago.
Duke held off Rob Pannell and Cornell for a 16-14 semifinal win. The other half saw Syracuse score twice in the final minute to shock Denver 9-8. Championship Monday belonged to face-off man Brendan Fowler and the Blue Devils, who turned around an early 5-0 deficit to win 16-10.
It was made-for-television drama. Might 2014 be the same? Can anyone dethrone Duke?
Jon Danowski's Blue Devil squad, despite an injury to senior Josh Dionne last weekend, may still be the team to beat. When festivities kick off Saturday it will mark the Blue Devils' eighth consecutive NCAA semifinal.
"We certainly have our hands full with the defending national champions," Denver coach Bill Tierney said. "Our guys have taken a business approach; we've played Duke each of the last four seasons, so we know who they are, we know the task at hand."
The defending champions have enough storylines this weekend to fill several documentaries. Danowski became coach in 2006 following the dismissal of Mike Pressler in the wake of rape allegations against three players. The program, through much soul-searching, held together and the result has been nothing less than phenomenal. Part of that cohesive unit comes from 29-year-old defender Casey Carroll, a veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan as an Army Ranger. Like the Thompsons of Albany, Carroll has given college lacrosse national publicity.
The loss of Dionne, one of the team's top offensive players, might send a lesser group into scramble mode.
"Each team has its own identity and its own unique challenges, adversity over the course of the year," said Danowski on Monday. "The fun of this is that I couldn't tell you what day today is, the date -- I know it's May -- but it's just kind of fun, everybody having fun and living day to day. ... The bonding that occurs is incredible because the focus is only on lacrosse."
Danowski calls it cliché, but it is as simple as the next man stepping up. DU's high-powered attack runs through senior Jordan Wolf, a Tewaarton finalist, and the physical Myles Jones, just a sophomore. Six players have at least 40 points.
Entering the weekend, Denver may be playing the best defense of anybody in the field. Tierney's Pioneers held North Carolina to five goals in the first round and Drexel managed just six in the quarterfinals. However, Denver defenders have not faced of offense the likes of Duke.
"I don't think we can say 'if we hold them to eight goals we win the game,' " Tierney said. "That is not going to be in the cards."
Denver has advanced to the NCAA semifinals in three of the past four years. Is Denver capable of winning a shoot-out?
The Pioneers have won 13 consecutive games thanks in part to the Canadian duo of Wesley Berg and Jeremy Noble. They bring the nation's third-highest scoring offense into Saturday.
Duke won a February meeting 14-10 in Durham, North Carolina.
The other semifinal features a Notre Dame squad coming off the high of rallying to beat high-scoring Albany. Down by five goals with just more than eight minutes remaining in last weekend's quarterfinals, the Irish tied the game in the closing moments and won 1:31 into overtime when Matt Kavanagh scored. Dramatic finishes are nothing new to Corrigan's group -- four of Notre Dame's past five games have been decided by one goal, all Irish victories. In the ACC semifinals, Kavanagh scored with seven seconds left to beat Maryland. The conference title game saw goalkeeper Connor Kelly record a save in the final two seconds; in the win versus Albany, Kelly stopped a Ty Thompson shot in the closing seconds to force overtime.
"We've had our backs against the wall, we are happy to be around," Corrigan said.
Maryland knows a thing or two about nail-biters. In the first round, the Terps' Mike Chanenchuk scored the game-winner with two seconds on the clock to beat Cornell. Chanenchuk registered nine points in a 16-8 quarterfinal win against Bryant; a senior from New York brings 35 goals and 22 assists, joining rookie Matt Rambo's 30 goals to lead the Terps' attack. Face-off man Charlie Raffa is among the nation's best, with goalkeeper Niko Amato, a senior from Pennsylvania, boasting 66 career starts. His 7.23 goals against average ranks fourth in the NCAA.
Although this season marks the 37th NCAA appearance for Maryland, the program seeks its first title since 1975.