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2009 E-Lacrosse Feature: Championship weekend notes

I'm emptying out my notebook from championship weekend. Make sure to also check out my analysis posts on the Division I semifinals and final if you missed them.

AMERICA EAST PARTY & COACH OF THE YEAR

I attended the America East Party Saturday night during championship weekend at Saint nightclub in Boston and that was a nice time. I hung out with my high school teammate and Binghamton head coach Ed Stevenson and other lacrosse notables. Speaking of America East coaches, congratulations are in order, as Albany coach Scott Marr won the Coach of the Year award for his team's outstanding 2008 season. My vote would have been for his America East counterpart at UMBC, Don Zimmerman, for taking a team that really stunk at the beginning of the season to a near first-round upset of Virginia. I loved Marr's effort and team but I think his team was better and I just keep thinking of the two UMBC wins over Albany, one in the America East final after trailing at the half by a ton.

THE CROWD

Foxborough has its benefits and detractors as do all the venues the tournament has visited. For example, there's lots of parking but the traffic stinks. The site, further from the traditional hotbeds and traditional region for the final four (Mid-Atlantic) brings a new dynamic to the game. Less people come to the event (121,511, down from the 123,225 in 2007) but more people stay for the whole thing. This year the final set an NCAA lacrosse and outdoor title game record with 48,970 fans at Gillette Stadium, passing Baltimore and M&T Bank Stadium in 2007 (48,443).

If the game were in Baltimore or Philly, bad weather could keep many away. The "wrong teams" in the final could keep some home. In any case, that morning or the night before, many folks are still deciding whether to go or not. The walk-up crowd is a factor. In Boston, people either traveled too far to miss the action or they live in New England and they weren't going to miss their big chance to see this spectacular event.

E-Lacrosse does an Internet show at the championship focusing on the party, called "The Sparky Burns Tailgate Show," and we noticed a definite difference in the behavior of the new Foxborough tournament demographic. At most of the past NCAA tournaments, the parking lots are full during the games. The interest is usually with one team or another or the tailgate party is given a greater value than the game because we take the games for granted compared to a New Englander that wouldn't. I'm not blaming the Baltimore/Philly crowd. I think that the concentration on the games themselves by such a vast majority of the attendees actually cut heavily into the camaraderie and social part of the experience this year.

THE VENUE

For various reasons, it was harder run into the same folks you usually happen by at the tailgate year after year. Some did not come, the actual games are more central and the parking lots were dispersed over the vast grounds. There was plenty of parking - almost too much.

We could not find the official fan zone on Saturday. The more commercial vendor area with the non-NCAA sponsors was off the beaten path and pretty hard to get to by foot. This facility needs footbridges over the main road in and out. And there is just one road. You'd think one of the benefits of building a stadium in between two cities instead of in one of them would be having many easy routes of access that could be built to the highway ensuring quick entry and exit and no huge traffic for the locals. Nope.

If you make it to your car early enough to beat the major crowd, you simply get in a line of cars that waits for the masses of people to cross the highway (police aided), heading to the parking lots before they can get out of there. By the time most of the pedestrians have made it across, the traffic that has been waiting is now met by those people and their cars at parking lot exits all along the one road out. The stadium has parking lots on every side and the road leads to Interstate 95 north to Boston one way and I-95 to all points south the other way, so the road is jam-packed in both directions. It's a mess.

THE TAILGATE CHAMPION

Syracuse dominated the crowd and the tailgate both days. They were the home team and then some. The dark blue you saw in the stands on Monday was likely empty seats. The place was orange with patches of light blue, like the parking lots. The Syracuse fans were really hospitable too and fed us many times. They don't just barbeque. The do it up right, with steak, ribs, amazing sausage, venison, chicken, seafood, and every other thing you can think of and all are welcome if you don't mind getting kissed by a stranger or getting caught up in a spontaneous eruption of cheering for the Orange. And all the stars are just regular people in a Syracuse crowd. The Gaits, Powells, Simmons, Leveilles, Banks, Desko, etc. are all usually on hand and chatting with everyone about every little thing. It's unique and we felt privileged to be welcomed so openly yet another year. This is a great family, and that has a lot more to do with the winning tradition than anyone else realizes. The Orange fully gets it.

Donnie Brown, a Baltimore friend reminded me that lots of those kids on the Syracuse team were ball boys for years at Lake Placid and that those summer tournaments forged friendships way beyond geographical loyalties. The family is larger than even Syracuse can imagine, with even Baltimore folks rooting for the 'Cuse for personal reasons.

THE GUAD SQUAD

My small crew and I were witness to an emotional occasion at the Syracuse tailgate after the Saturday semifinal. On Tuesday night, Aaron Guadagnolo, the brother of two Syracuse players, Kyle and Thomas Guadagnolo, died in a tragic motorcycle accident. Aaron Guadagnolo, between Kyle and Thomas in age, played a fall season for the Orange and was working to get back into Syracuse while also serving as a firefighter. The tragedy hit the family and the team too late to even react. The semifinal was upon them. The team and the two brothers held their emotions and played the game. After the double overtime victory, as you can imagine, emotions were high.

An award is given, after each game, in the parking lot to a Syracuse player who made a difference but gets little notice, like an unsung hero award but more bawdy, as it is called the "touch yourself" award and is represented by a very appropriate Greek statue replica. On this day, we witnessed that award being given to Kyle and Thomas in a tear-filled impromptu ceremony conducted from the tailgate of a pick-up truck. Adversity often precedes great events and accomplishments. I have no doubt that Aaron Guadagnolo was a key to Syracuse's 2008 title victory.

Aaron Guadagnolo's funeral was Wednesday in Elbridge, N.Y. In lieu of flowers, the family asks for donations in the memory of Aaron J. Guadagnolo to the Elbridge Volunteer Fire Department (275 E. Main St., Elbridge, N.Y. 13060).

DIV II & DIV III FINALS

Congratulations to my good friend Jack Kaley for winning a thriller against LeMoyne. His NYIT squad never gave up all year and won a classic and many new fans for division II. Jack is a generous lacrosse soul, lending his talents to many efforts including the German national team.

The father-son combination perfect season and championship at Salisbury is special, and Jim and Kylor Berkman will go down in history as such. If you thought Jim Berkman couldn't surpass previous accomplishments, Viola!

The Salisbury and NYIT victories on Sunday set an attendance mark of 24,317, breaking the record of 23,990 set in 2006 in Philly. This location was good for these two divisions and word of mouth will make the Sunday crowd even larger next year. That New England crowd was buzzing after those games. They loved the games and cheered passionately. The Syracuse people showed up to root for LeMoyne and Cortland, both losers on the day. The upstate faithful got their reward on Monday with the Syracuse win.

BOSTON AS THE HOST CITY

Dustin Dohm, co-owner of Stylin' Strings with Van O'Bannon loved the town of Boston. He's an artist and designer so the ornate and eclectic architecture really grabbed him. "The city is very open, compared to Philly or New York. The wide streets and shorter residential buildings make the town seem very relaxed and more comfortable." Dohm, a twenty-something, liked Boston's social scene too. "Like the crowd at the tailgates was generally dispersed, people in town often missed each other too. But the town was fun. It's a very multicultural and metropolitan social scene but there was no real hub for the lacrosse people." Different bars in the Faneuil Hall area were the best bet for finding a lax crowd, but some of the best scenes were impromptu or at private parties, as well.

ESPN'S COVERAGE

A few critiques on the commentary from ESPN, which I though was generally excellent despite the mediocre camera work. At one point, Syracuse's Kenny Nims put a ball past Hopkins goalie Michael Gvozden in the final to make it 11-8 Syracuse and the announcers called it a "quick stick," and no correction was made by those who know better. A quick stick does not include a cradling session however necessary with today's offset heads. A quick stick comes in and goes out in a fluid motion. It's important because it's a dying skill set and that is tragic.

In the Duke-Hopkins game, Quint Kessenich said, "Coach Petriemala will stalk the officials here," like it's just part of the game and OK to do that. They never brought it up again. In the Syracuse-Virginia game, Kessenich questions Danny Glading's toughness just as he dodged to the cage, was drilled by his defender, hurled into the air and still had the composure to square up, shoot and score.

To Kessenich's credit he stopped his on-air partner cold when he referred to Paul Rabil as the best middie ever, reminding him that Gary Gait still holds that spot pretty solidly. Rabil will have to go on a tear for the next twenty years to catch Gait. Rabil might do just that but he hasn't yet and Kessenich knows the difference.

THE ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM

The official 2008 All-Tournament Team:
Paul Rabil, Johns Hopkins
Dan Hardy, Syracuse
Dan Glading, Virginia
Kevin Huntley, Johns Hopkins
Mike Leveille, Syracuse (MOP)
Michael Evans, Johns Hopkins
Michael Gvozden, Johns Hopkins
Danny Brennan, Syracuse
Zack Greer, Duke
Sid Smith, Syracuse
My All-Tournament team:
Danny Glading
Mike Leveille
Kevin Huntley
Steven Brooks
Paul Rabil (MOP)
Nick Ohara (of Duke) for D too
Danny Brennan
Sid Smith
Ken Clausen
Michael Evans
Michael Gvozden
12th man - Syracuse
ADDITIONAL NOTES
Props to Notre Dame for losing in tight contests two years in a row to the eventual champion. How good was Notre Dame? Could they have gotten to the final given a different path? We'll never know but they will be back and re-loaded again next season.
I met the Patriots' head chef. He cooks for the team and the executives and wears a very cool chef suit. There's no real story here. I'm just name-dropping except I didn't even get his name. Syracuse's Steven Brooks from Illinois was Middie of the Year. The game is growing! Congratulations to Steven and the state of Illinois!
TIPS FOR NEXT YEAR
Stay in Boston, either in the Back Bay, Copley Square area if you're over 30 or with kids and near Faneuil Hall if you're among the 20-30 set.
Leave earlier each day for the stadium and plan to stay later tailgating after to avoid traffic both ways. You can also pre-order train tickets to and from the stadium to avoid traffic altogether.
Order tickets and parking early to get the best spots next to the stadium, but for the budget conscious, remember that there is plenty of free parking if you want to walk a bit to the stadium.
Plan an extra day or two to really get to see Boston during the day. It's a great city, or visit Cape Cod with that extra time. It's a half hour from Foxborough.
Eat well on the way to and from Boston. When on I-95 in Connecticut, almost any exit taken east will lead to a small quaint water town with great food on Memorial Day weekend. We got lucky with two great finds in Norwalk on the way up and Niantic on the way down. Never pick the first place you see. Drive a mile each way and then decide. We had great seafood twice!
Don't blow it off. Make a plan and come on up! It was a great time!

May 30, 2008
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