Best of lacrosse showcased in Philly

Next stop, Philadelphia. Nearly 50,000 fans will catch the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament live, and more will be able to watch on television. It's an opportunity for lacrosse players and fans to showcase our best product on our biggest stage.

Hofstra's motto this year was "Relentless," but for the final eight minutes last Saturday, UMass borrowed the Pride's slogan. One thing you'll notice about the UMass offense is that it moves without the ball. The Minutemen cut the middle. They get through. They ask defenders to change their roles from being adjacent, to being inside, to being hot. It can be confusing to guard.

Maryland coach Dave Cottle says face offs are his No. 1 priority in Philadelphia. "Jake Deane is a great player," he said. "He won 20-of-25 face offs against Hofstra and was the reason they were able to come back after being down five goals."

Deane faces off with a longstick, and the senior co-captain plays with his engine in overdrive. "He's got a motor," said Cottle. "We have to match UMass' enthusiasm and hustle. They have great chemistry and have beaten two excellent teams in a row. Don't forget they had to travel to Ithaca and beat Cornell on their home field. The game at Stony Brook might as well have been at Hofstra. Both wins were comebacks. And last year, this same bunch were able to end Syracuse's final four streak. We have tremendous respect for what they've been able to accomplish."

The Minutemen make their championship weekend debut. UMass has the best two players on the field in attackman Sean Morris and defenseman Jack Reid. The complementary cast is composed of gritty overachievers -- players like Brian Jacovina, Andrew Recchione, Jim Connolly and Brett Garber. They might fail the eyeball test, but they have hearts as big as the Lincoln Financial Field.

As Maryland's Joe Walters said, "They're definitely a scrappy team. They are going to be a handful. The heart and character they showed against Hofstra was amazing -- and very fun to watch, we were going crazy on the bus watching."

Maryland's offense, dormant in March and the first half of April, is averaging 11.85 goals per game since April 15. The Terps dismantled Princeton on Sunday 11-6, and their two best offensive players (Walters and Bill McGlone) shot a combined 2-for-18. The Ivy League sent four teams to the Big Dance, and they went a combined 1-5 and were outscored 53-33 in six NCAA events.

A family thing
Greg Cannella took control of UMass lacrosse in 1994. The last six years have been the most successful in the program's history. I played high school lacrosse with Greg at Lynbrook High School on Long Island in 1983 for coach Larry Glenz. Lynbrook is a hard-working town, comprised mainly of commuters who take the train to New York City. It's not Garden City or Manhasset -- it's much more blue-collar, much tougher.

That's the way the Owls play. Greg was our senior captain when I was a freshman. He was the most skilled player in the program. We were ball boys in 1978 at the Nassau County Championship game between Lynbrook and Farmingdale -- a game that the Owls lost 6-4 to a very talented Daler squad, which featured Ray and Rick Giusto and the Naslonski brothers. That was before the Class A and B separation. Lynbrook's coach was Tony Seaman. Matt Rainis was its star. Greg's brother Tim was a goal-scorer on that team, my brother Pace was a midfielder. I remember the torrential rain storm that hit during the pregame practice. We hid under the scorer's table to stay dry. I had never seen Astroturf before -- it felt fast. And I'll never forget the silence on the bus ride home.

Greg's dad, John, was an assistant principal at the school and was instrumental in starting the lacrosse program there in 1958 after playing at Cortland in the '50s. Hundreds of student-athletes have benefited from John Cannella, the father of Lynbrook Lacrosse. Greg is the baby of a large family. His mom, Dolores, never misses a game. She's there on the sideline afterward to give Greg a hug and a kiss, win or lose. That's what she's done for 30 years. Saturday will be a special day for the Cannella family.

Keep it simple
Virginia nailed 20 of 47 shots on Sunday, as the Cavaliers sent Georgetown packing. The usual suspects did the damage for the Cavs -- Tewaaraton finalist Matt Ward had eight points, Ben Rubeor ripped five goals, Matt Poskay found the net four times. Virginia is 15-0 and has only been held to single-digits once this spring. The Cavaliers have scored 20 goals or more.

Game Two on Saturday features Syracuse, winner of nine straight -- with four of those contests decided by one goal. The Orange were 0-for-March and have been playing playoff lacrosse since April 1.

Simplicity will rule in this game. The No. 1 key to upsetting Virginia is groundballs. Nathan Kenney, Steve Panarelli, Jon Jerome and John Carozza will be called upon in this department. The ball is the most important thing on the field. There are 20 players, but only one ball. Get it. Own it. Take care of it. Put it in the goal and keep it out of your own. Simple stuff. Virginia's team speed shows up on loose balls and creating transition of picked up grounders.

The second key -- Virginia doesn't play many players. The Cavaliers have the shortest bench of the four semifinalists. Expose their lack of depth. Make Poskay, Drew Thompson and Kyle Dixon play defense. And run on the Cavs when Poskay bails out after a turnover. At times, he's overly eager to sprint off to the substitution box and you can get behind the Cavs.

Thirdly, be accurate with your shots. Virginia goalie Kip Turner is underappreciated in the Cavs' equation, but Brett Bucktooth (42 percent) is the most feared shooter in the college game. Bucktooth has emerged as a legitimate first-round draft choice for Major League Lacrosse's draft on May 31. And last of all, if this game does evolve into a scoring contest, focus on face-offs. Orange draw specialist Jon Jerome (.494) steadily has improved over the 2006 campaign.

Youth movement
Syracuse's quarterfinal win was fueled by freshmen. Pat Perritt, Dan Hardy and Kenny Nims scored to stretch the Orange's lead from 9-7 to 12-7. Game over. Hardy continues to impress with his ability to lean in and distribute. The matchup with Johns Hopkins was all about shooting and goaltending. Peter Coluccini made 16 stops (eight in the fourth quarter) while his counterpart Jesse Schwartzman only blocked two shots in the first half and eight overall. Coluccini's save percentage has crept up to 57 percent and his goals against average has dipped below 10 goals per game.

The Orange dissected a Hopkins defense with some new wrinkles -- Mike Leveille cutting the middle, Joe Yevoli popping off a pick play on the wing. Once again, coach John Desko crafted a masterful game plan. The soap opera of Yevoli playing against his former teammates at UVa. will garner a bunch of ink this week.

Spreading like wildfire
It's an epidemic. The Minnesota State High School League just voted last week to sanction boy's lacrosse beginning in 2007. Jody Martin of U.S. Lacrosse assisted in the presentation. Minnesota became the 16th state to sanction or formally recognize boy's lacrosse and a vote is also scheduled for Pennsylvania this summer.

Other notes:
Mandatory reading -- Inside Lacrosse Publisher Bob Carpenter's message to lacrosse fans before championship weekend.

We will set the attendance record this weekend -- 42,666 tickets sold as of Wednesday according to www.faceoffphiladelphia.com.

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