Jeff Zrebiec has been covering college lacrosse at The Sun for the past three years.
Michael K., Easton: Is Salisbury as good as they seem on paper? Is the Division III Tournament even going to be close? Or is the tourney Salisbury's to lose?
Jeff Zrebiec: I'd say yes is the answer to all of the above. I've actually never seen the Sea Gulls in person this year, but in talking to other coaches, including several of Division I teams, they've raved about Salisbury. It's even been said that Salisbury could probably beat a handful of ranked Division I teams, but since I haven't seen them yet, I couldn'tmake that call. But just the fact that they have outscored their opposition 310-93 says enough for me. The Gulls would certainly have to be considered a heavy favorite to repeat as national champs, though I'd expect that some team, possibly even Washington College, will be able to learn from the regular season loss and at least push Salisbury in the tournament.
Stephen, Baltimore: I enjoy good lacrosse when the defense steps up and shuts down a good team. Which defensive units do you see stepping up in the postseason?
Jeff Zrebiec: I think the answer depends on what goalie gets hot in the tournament. After watching what Tillman Johnson did for Virginia last year, you cannot underestimate what a hot goalie means to a team. As for just pure defensive units, Maryland, of course, comes to mind with the individual talent they have in Chris Passavia, Lee Zink and David Wagner.I've always been impressed with Johns Hopkins' defense with Tom Garvey, Matt Pinto and Chris Watson. The Blue Jays aren't flashy and get overshadowed a little bit by all the offensive talent at Hopkins, but few units are as technically sound and consistent as Hopkins' is. Navy will also be tough, but to get away from Maryland a little bit, I think Ohio State and Rutgers both have the defense/goalie combination necessary for success in the postseason.
Bibby, Parkville: When will UMBC return to their glory days? Is Zimmerman still the man there or do they need a new coach?
Jeff Zrebiec: I think UMBC and Coach Zimmerman will be just fine. I think people might have made the mistake of just expecting the Retrievers to coast this year because their new conference - the America East - isn't as difficult as the ECAC. They still are young in some spots and the injury of attackman Andy Gallagher hurt them a little this year, but if he's healthy next year - along with Drew Westervelt and Brendan Mundorf on attack - the Retrievers will be in good shape.
Chip, Gaffney, S.C.: What are your thoughts on Division II lacrosse? Limestone is having another great season. Do you think the Saints will come marching back to Baltimore on Memorial Day Weekend?
Jeff Zrebiec: I think the Division II tournament has the potential to be as interesting as anything that will go on lacrosse-wise this month. I think the four teams people were talking about in the preseason (Limestone, Mercyhurst, NYIT and LeMoyne) are the same teams people are talking about now. I know with the amount of Maryland talent on the Limestone roster,there probably are a lot of people around here who are rooting for your guys, Chip. And with the Saints championship pedigree, I think you'd have to consider them to have a good a chance as anybody.
Christopher, Towson: Who are the most overrated and underrated players in Division I lacrosse?
Jeff Zrebiec: Christopher, I'll answer half your question but take the high road on the overrated part. I will say this, though. I have occasionally heard some suggestion that Princeton's Ryan Boyle might get a little too much credit. I couldn't disagree more. The numbers Boyle puts up, especially this year with the youth that surrounds him, are impressiveand he warrants any praise he gets. I think a lot of the guys I consider underrated play some of the unheralded positions. At Johns Hopkins, defensive midfielders Corey Harned and Benson Erwin are way underrated. Maryland shortstick Paul Gillette may be the poster boy for being underrated. And sorry for fixating on the local guys, but Towson midfielder Casey Cittadino is someone who is not talked about enough. In other higher profile positions, Ohio State goalie Tony Russo and defender Greg Bice, Rutgers attackman Delby Powless; Notre Dame attackman Patrick Walsh; Bucknell attackman Chris Cara and Virginia attackman Matt Ward all get All-American mention, but around here in Baltimore, you don't hear as much about these players as you probably should.
Donny, New York: Before the season began you projected Johns Hopkins and Syracuse to make it to the Final Four. I agree on those two teams but what were you thinking when you picked Virginia and UMass?
Jeff Zrebiec: Thanks for the reminder of my errant final four forecasting. In my mind, Virginia was a no brainer. Even with the loss of some talented middies, nobody could've predicted what happened to the Cavs this spring. In the Inside Lacrosse men's preview, eight of the 10 media members polled, penciled Virginia into the final four; so I guess I'm not the only dummy out there. I guess I opened up myself to some criticism for picking UMass, but if I had a crystal ball, I would've known that a handful of their top players, including their best player Jeff Zywicki, would miss some time because of injury. I just figured the Minutemen were ready to take the next step and I still feel they could have if not for the deluge of injuries.
Conor, Flora, Miss.: Can North Carolina lose either of their last two games against Limestone and Ohio State and still make the NCAA Tournament?
Jeff Zrebiec: Conor, I still think North Carolina is in regardless of what they do against the Buckeyes on Saturday. I know that they don't have a "statement" win right now, but I feel that because of their schedule and how close the Heels were to the country's top three teams (Hopkins, Navy and Maryland), that they are in even if losses are not factored in theselection criteria. Though if Penn beats Maryland, Brown beats Princeton and Hobart beats Cornell this weekend, Carolina might need to beat Ohio State to survive. What is scary is that if the Tar Heels get in after losing to OSU, they will get a high seed, which spells an almost final four quality first round game with somebody.
Mike, Baltimore: I was surprised that the NCAA is taking the tournament to Philadelphia after all the success local organizers had here last year (and are poised to have again in a few weeks). What are your thoughts on the decision?
Jeff Zrebiec: I have mixed feelings Mike. I am biased on this of course, but I don't think there is another venue around that will attract as many fans and bring as much buzz to the event as Baltimore just because of how important the sport is here. I really believe that with good weather and the right mix of teams in the final four (Hopkins, Navy, Maryland and Syracuse possibly), this year's event will definitely sell out and could even do around 50,000 if organizers open the upper deck. But with that being said, I think Princeton coach Bill Tierney said it best when he said that if you're going to make Baltimore the permanent home of the event, you better have something to compare it to. And bringing it to another provenue in Philadelphia will give people an idea on how other areas will support the event, and if all works out, it will help spread the sport.
Dan Etzel, Cibolo, Texas: Do you think Joe Breschi will win Coach of the Year this year?
Jeff Zrebiec: I do not, though he certainly warrants some serious consideration. He's done an amazing job especially with all the personal tragedy he's had to endure. But my bet would be that Navy's Richie Meade will get the award. I remember watching the Mids last year, and it just unbelievable the leap they have made from one year to the next. Plus, thedecision to put Matt Russell in goal over a solid incumbent in Seth DiNola, took a lot of guts and has to be considered one of the key moves that any coach has made in the 2004 season. I also think Ed Stephenson, who has done a tremendous job in building a program from scratch at Binghamton, and Maryland's Dave Cottle warrant mention. The Terps lost a ton to graduation and haven't missed a beat, especially on offense.
Joey Pinaetta, Levittown, N.Y.: Do you think there will be any coaching changes and/or for 2005, especially at Duke, where they have consistently underachieved?
Jeff Zrebiec: I saw that Butler made a change this week, but I imagine you are talking about some changes with the top-tier schools. I've heard the rumors that Coach Pressler could be out at Duke and Coach Danowski might be done at Hofstra and even headed to Durham to reunite with his son, but my guess - and I stress my guess - is that there won't be any major changes. You ask any coach in the country and they'll probably tell you that Danowski is one of the best coaches in the country. And Duke is so young and I think Pressler will get a chance to mold some of those talented freshmen that he brought in.
Bill Kenety, Silver Spring: Weekly statistics consistently show three Army players in the Top Ten in scoring, yet Army did not even make the Patriot League tournament. What happened?
Jeff Zrebiec: The simplest answer is the Black Knights simply didn't get it done against Colgate and Hobart. The loss to the Statesmen isn't too bad, but tournament-bound teams don't lose to Colgate. I think games with teams like Holy Cross, Lehigh and Lafayette did allow some of the Knights to pad the stats a little. As funny as it sounds, I still don't think Army is out of it even though the Knights didn't make their league tournament. If they beat Duke this weekend, that gives the Knights wins over Rutgers, Penn and Duke. There might not be another team on the bubble with a resume like that.
Roger Tomko, Jr.: Has the NCAA approached the networks covering the sport about ways to improve camera placement or angles to show the intensity of the contact? The NFL does a good job of showing the violence of their sport, but a lot of the hitting in lacrosse is lost in the TV translation.
Jeff Zrebiec: To be honest, I'm not sure if the NCAA has approached the networks about camera angles and stuff like that, but that's probably a secondary concern to just getting more air time for games, highlights, etc.
Jeff Zrebiec: Thanks for all the great questions.