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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Between final fours

I just got back from the MCLA Tournament in Denver. For the second year in a row, Michigan and Chapman battled in the final with the Wolverines taking the title. The final was a great game. Chapman, having lost in the final last year, had only one goal this year and that was to win the championship. It was a tremendous heartbreak losing to the same team again. But Chapman played Michigan better than anyone all year. The Wolverines finished a second 20-game undefeated season with the win and now stand at 40-0 in the last two years.

In the Division II tournament, St. Thomas defeated Dayton in the final. On the final day, the Dick's Sporting Goods Tournament of Champions event was held at the complex. Some 200 youth teams played all day long on 20 or more fields. I saw teams from Utah, California, Texas and lots of Colorado kids. The whole state is getting good at the youth level quickly. Denver is a hotbed in the making. And they support their pro teams better than any other town, so they are already a top lacrosse community. They hosted a great event and the facility was first rate with plenty of parking and perfect fields under clear skies.

While I was gone Gilman won the MIAA A Conference championship as I thought they might. Congratulations to them and to Calvert Hall, which would have been a fine champion also. The Bayhawks lost in the opener to Toronto. If you missed it, Toronto comes back in a week or so for another game in Annapolis. But the big news while I was at the "other college championships", was the NCAA quarterfinals where Johns Hopkins and Maryland were eliminated while Duke and Cornell found their way in against likely finalists Virginia and Syracuse. I was stunned that UNC lost three to Duke in a year. I was stunned that Cornell held Princeton to four goals. I am encouraged that we could see a Duke-Cornell final. That would be my hope. I have nothing against Virginia and Syracuse, but I'd just like to see the group of recent champions expand.

There are some very interesting games Saturday and possible match-ups for Monday in Foxborough, Mass. The first is the Duke-Syracuse game. These teams have never played and that makes it very interesting to me. I would imagine we'll see an offensive affair with any real defensive standout performance being the difference. If any of the Orange or Blue Devil stars are shut down, that would be the difference.

Virginia already beat Cornell 14-10 in Charlottesville in early March. Both are better teams now. I love the play of Max Seibald and Rocco Romero. I saw them play together years ago on a team in Vail and knew then that both were special players. Coincidentally, Rocco is from the Denver area but graduated from Boys' Latin in Baltimore before going to Cornell. Virginia has the tools to limit or surpass both of the Cornell stars but so did Princeton, on paper. I was so ready for a Princeton-Virginia semifinal that Cornell-Virginia seems like a good game to me. But then I look at the Hopkins-Virginia game and see that Virginia is hitting on all cylinders now. This one may not be close after all. But we can hope for a good game.

A Cornell win would be a huge upset. But if they won, the matchups for the final would be sweet either way. Cornell always plays Syracuse tough and they have a tradition of upsetting the Orange. They lost a 2007 semifinal thriller to Duke, which was one of the most exciting games I've seen. A rematch of that game is appealing to me, especially for the national title. If Virginia wins the semifinal they could face Syracuse in a battle of traditional contenders. The game, which has a 70 percent likelihood of occurring, in my opinion, would be well played, hard fought, and exciting to watch. But the result would just add a notch to a crowded gun handle either way and blend in well with the history of the game.

Should Virginia face Duke in the final, the fun begins, because the best team in the nation and the most touted team in years would have to beat a team they just can't beat statistically. The Blue Devils have beaten the Cavs seven times in a row, winning every game since 2005. The last time they played was the semifinal of the ACC tournament. Duke beat the top-ranked team 16-5. Virginia lost the first meeting of 2009, 15-10. But a Duke win would mean they beat two conference teams three times each in the same season. That is a massive achievement in any sport. It may be too much to ask for should the Blue Devils survive the battle with Syracuse, which should take a lot out of them. If Virginia cruises in their semifinal they could have an advantage they would need to pull out a trend-breaking win against their conference nemesis. Again, the fact that they would be playing for a title makes that game very attractive.

A Cornell-Duke final would mean that a new champion would be crowned and would join the group of modern-era winners, a most elusive feat, but in this case, a sure thing for one of the two teams and all of us. Cornell beat Duke in Durham earlier this year by a score of 10-6. I love this matchup and would already be happy that the game's glass ceiling had been cracked. That said, dreaming of this final Monday matchup is as close as I will get. It is far less likely that Cornell will play Duke in the final then it is that the 2009 final between Syracuse and Virginia be called one of the greatest games ever played. Either way it will be great for the fans in attendance. See you up there!

May 15, 2009
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