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Men's lacrosse Final Four features familiar faces
Updated 5/23/2009 3:04 PM ET
The Syracuse men's lacrosse team and its large contingent of tailgating fans will be among the familiar sights this weekend at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass.

Indeed, most of the participants are regulars. Three of the four Division I semifinalists were here last season. The fourth, Cornell, was in the Final Four a year earlier.

MEN'S LACROSSE CAPSULES: Final-four matchups WOMEN'S LACROSSE: Northwestern, Maryland headline Final Four

Nevertheless, there are a couple of unusual aspects for the Orange as they seek to repeat their 2008 title. For one thing, they are trying to become the first program with back-to-back crowns since Princeton won its third in a row in 1998.

"We haven't really talked about that (repeating) as a group," said Orange coach John Desko this week. "I think if you start to talk about those kinds of things then you lose focus on the task at hand."

Adding to the intrigue, Syracuse has very little history with its semifinal opponent, Duke. Despite the fact the Blue Devils are making their fourth Final Four appearance in five years, they have only crossed paths with the Orange on five previous occasions, only twice in the postseason. Their most recent encounter was a 10-9 Syracuse win in the 2002 quarterfinals.

"We're playing somebody we haven't seen before. That gets your players' attention," said Duke coach John Danowski. "But at this time of year, you don't really change what you do. I've grown to learn that. I love how Syracuse plays. They're so talented and so athletic. But you just have to focus on what you do."

What Duke does is score in bunches. Usually, Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Ned Crotty has a hand in it. The converted midfielder returned to the attack spot he played in high school and now leads the nation in assists.

"It was a bit of a leap of faith," Danowski said. "But I think what happens is good players will thrive in their system by the nature of their position. Ned makes the plays that are available to him."

But Syracuse and big scores have become synonymous in recent years. The 2009 version of the Orange will take fast-break opportunities, but they're also willing to settle the ball and count on the veteran attack unit to generate quality shots.

The already formidable group paced by Kenny Nims, who leads the nation at 4.25 points a game, got a bit deeper toward the end of the season when touted junior college transfer Cody Jamieson was declared eligible by the NCAA. The defense also has been solid, and starting goalie John Galloway should be ready after the flu kept him out of last week's quarterfinal against Maryland.

Heading the other side of the bracket is Virginia, which has been even more prolific than Syracuse in the scoring department. But it wasn't smooth sailing for the Cavaliers a month ago. A late-season slump bottomed out in an embarrassing 16-5 drubbing by Duke in the Atlantic Coast Conference tournament semifinals that put their No. 1 seed in doubt. But they responded to the committee's decision to seed them at the top by demolishing their first two NCAA opponents by a combined 37-14.

"I'm not sure I can tell you exactly what the answer is," said Cavaliers coach Dom Starsia of his team's return to form. "All I can tell you is I have a veteran team. This is a group I really like. We'd been punched in the nose, and we were rocked back on our heels. It may be there was a little fear mixed in with the realization that we were about to start the playoffs. We've had a little more focus than maybe we normally would at this time of year, and everybody just got on the same page."

It also didn't hurt that midfielder Rhamel Bratton, slowed by midseason injuries, is back at full speed. He is available to run on the first unit with twin brother Shamel, or to provide another shooter on the second line. The whole package will challenge a Cornell defense that limited Princeton to four goals a week ago.

"They seem to be playing with a lot more urgency right now," Tambroni said of the Cavaliers. "If you start worrying about how to defend each and every guy on their roster, you're going to have a tough time. These guys can beat you from all six spots, so you've just got to do as much as you can to stay one step ahead of the dodge or the pass."

*****

Men's Division I Final Four capsules

At Foxborough, Mass.

Semifinals — Saturday

No. 2 Syracuse (14-2) vs. No. 3 Duke (15-3) Noon (ESPN2)

Coaches: Syracuse John Desko (11th season), Duke John Danowski (3rd season).

NCAA championships: Syracuse 10 (last 2008), Duke none.

Key players: Syracuse — A Kenny Nims, Sr. (27 goals, 41 assists); A Stephen Keogh, So. (46 goals, 6 assists); M Matt Abbott, Sr. (12 goals, 8 assists, 72 ground balls); G John Galloway, So. (7.58 Goals against average, .567 save percentage). Duke — A Ned Crotty, Sr. (23 goals, 53 assists); A Max Quinzani, Jr. (53 goals, 10 assists); A Zach Howell, Soph. (26 goals, 19 assists); D Parker McKee, Jr. (92 ground balls).

Quick sticks: The high-scoring Orange average 12.88 goals a game, good for second in the country. Their defense isn't shabby either, fourth nationally allowing 7.31 a game. Senior Sid Smith, the most athletic of the long pole carriers, will likely shadow Crotty. … The Blue Devils will need midfield production to keep pace if the scores climb into double digits.

No. 1 Virginia (15-2) vs. No. 5 Cornell (12-3) 2:30 p.m. approx. (ESPN2)

Coaches: Virginia Dom Starsia (17th season), Cornell Jeff Tambroni (9th season).

NCAA championships: Virginia 4 (last 2006), Cornell 3 (last 1977)

Key players: Virginia — A Danny Glading, Sr. (30 goals, 30 assists); A Garrett Billings, Sr. (37 goals, 20 assists); A Steele Stanwick, Fr. (34 goals, 21 assists); LSM Chad Gaudet, Sr. (96 ground balls, .551 face-off percentage). Cornell — A Rob Pannell, Fr. (21 goals, 38 assists); A Ryan Hurley, Jr. (40 goals, 7 assists); M John Glynn, Fr. (96 ground balls, .592 face-off percentage); M Max Seibald, Sr. (25 goals, 9 assists, 41 ground balls).

Quick sticks: The goalie position has been a question mark for the Big Red, but senior Jake Myers made some key stops in the quarterfinal victory against Princeton. He'll be asked to make a lot more saves against the Cavaliers' plethora of shooters, though having All-America defenseman Matt Moyer in front of him will help. ... While UVa's offensive midfield combinations get a lot of attention, the defensive middies will play key roles. Gaudet must match Glynn at the face-off X, while Mike Timms must keep Seibald under wraps.

Championship Monday, 1 p.m. (ESPN)

***

Division III Championship, Sunday

•Cortland State (N.Y.) (18-2) vs. Gettysburg (Pa.) (16-3) Noon

Gettysburg is back in the final for the first time since 2002 and third time overall. The Bullets hope to bring long-time mentor Hank Janczyk, now in his 22nd season at the helm, his first national championship. They enter on a 14-game winning streak, riding hot shooting by Kyle McGrath and goaltending by Zach Furshman. The Red Dragons are in their fourth consecutive final seeking their second title. Cortland beat the Bullets 14-8 on March 7. Mike Tota and Brian Krol are the Dragons' top finishers.

***

Division II Championship, Sunday

•Le Moyne (N.Y.) (16-0) vs. C.W. Post (N.Y.) (14-1) 3 p.m.

The D-II finale is also a rematch of a regular-season encounter, a 6-5 Le Moyne victory at the Carrier Dome. The Pioneers hope prolific scorers Greg Cerar and Dave Loftus can put up bigger numbers this time. The Dolphins are in their fourth consecutive final and are paced by Jack Harmatuk and Brian Welch.

Capsules compiled by Eddie Timanus

Posted 5/21/2009 10:04 PM ET
Updated 5/23/2009 3:04 PM ET
Syracuse's Kenny Nims, shown in an April game, leads the nation with 4.25 points a game and hopes to help the Orange win the national title.
By Jim O'Connor, NJ Sport Pics
Syracuse's Kenny Nims, shown in an April game, leads the nation with 4.25 points a game and hopes to help the Orange win the national title.