While lacrosse remains one of the fastest growing sports in the United States, it is still met by resistance from some people who perceive the sport to be “soft,” or inferior due to its lack of a professional league that is comparable to the NFL or NBA. The “Lacrosse Bro” stereotype also doesn’t do much good for the sport, painting a picture of a team of frat boys playing intramurals between keg stands. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The game of lacrosse is considered one of the most physically demanding and dangerous contact sports next to football. Major League Lacrosse (MLL) and National Lacrosse League (NLL) are also experiencing growth as teams like the Ohio Machine are now lucrative enough to fund their own facility. Still, the highest level of lacrosse you will see is at the NCAA level and this weekend in Foxboro, Mass. The field is down to the final four teams fighting for the championship. The following is your beginner’s guide to the fastest sport on two feet’s ultimate weekend.
When is it?
Saturday, May 26th- Semi Final Round
Albany vs. Yale, 12:00 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Maryland vs. Duke 2:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2
Monday, May 28, Championship Game on ESPN2
Winner of Albany/Yale vs. Winner of Maryland/Duke
What am I Watching?
Many people confuse the sport of lacrosse as having the most in common with a sport like hockey and while it is true that the games have similarities, the game of lacrosse is much closer to basketball with elements of other sports thrown in. The offenses and the defenses are ripped directly from the sport of basketball, employing motion triangles and pick and roll tactics on offense and similar zone concepts employed on the defensive end. “The ride” is lacrosse’s version of the full court press.
Among other sports that lend a bit to the game, there is the contact of football, the clearing principles of soccer and at the faceoff X, perhaps the most exciting game within the game in all of sports, borrows its technique heavily from wrestling. There’s something for every sports fan.
Who should I root for?
To make it easy, I decided to break things down into what I hope you already know, comparing each final four program to more well-known sports teams.
Albany: The Los Angeles Rams of the college lacrosse world. Young, athletic, fast-paced and lead by Scott Marr, a player’s coach who drops f-bombs on live TV and joins his players in pre-game air guitar battles, this high-scoring team has two electric playmakers in senior Connor Fields and freshman attackman Tehoka Nanticoke. It’s a true two back offense similar to Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, with Nanticoke being a strong inside finisher reminiscent of a short yardage running back and Field’s is the guy who can hurt you from anywhere and makes everyone else better around him. This is their first trip to championship weekend in school history and they’ll face off against Yale, who they dropped a 14-6 regular season loss to in April, however, the Greyhounds were without Fields who was sidelined with a knee injury.
Yale: The antithesis of Albany, Yale as an Ivy League school is much more reserved and methodical but just as dangerous. Head Coach Andy Shay is more reminiscent of a Gregg Popovich and his team is more reminiscent of the Spurs dynasty. A solid team of role players with no real weakness other than some minor goaltending issues. Ben Reeves is the Tim Duncan of the squad at attack. The matchup to watch in this game though will be at the faceoff X, where T.D. Irlen, will go up against Yale’s Connor Mackie. The last time these two met, Mackie won 13 of 21 faceoffs. Irlen, however, just won 50 percent of faceoffs against Denver’s Trevor Baptiste in the quarterfinals. Baptiste is considered the greatest faceoff guy of all time in the NCAA, owning the record for most career wins at the X. This game within a game matchup is more reminiscent of a Super Bowl matchup like Tom Brady vs. Eli Manning. On paper, Irlen should take the matchup, but Mackie is a scrapper who will win the possession by any means necessary.
Duke: You love to hate them, but they’re in the mix every year. They’ve got some controversy in their past. The Duke Blue Devils are the New England Patriots of the group meaning, Head Coach John Danowski is their Bill Belichick chasing his fourth national title. A stoic, no-nonsense type of guy who consistently puts a tournament team on the field and is no stranger to championship weekend. Much like Belichick, Danowski surrounds himself with great assistant coach’s and even employs his son like his NFL counterpart. The Tom Brady of this group putting up gaudy numbers as the offensive leader at attack is Justin Guterding. Joe Robertson, a freshman attackman at 5-foot-11, 180 pounds, is more of a gritty playmaker like Julian Edelman, while 6-foot-3 midfielder Brad Smith serves as the offense’s Rob Gronkowski.
Maryland: They do things a bit stranger than anyone else, but man are they talented. The team culture of the Terps is definitely more laid back than Duke or Yale but it works for them, much like the recent Seattle Seahawks Super Bowl teams. They rock out to ‘80s hair band music during drills at practice with the approval of Head Coach John Tillman, who is a personality clone of Pete Carroll. They even took on the song, “Money for Nothing,” by Dire Straits as the rallying cry for their 2017 championship season. The returning champs don’t light up the scoreboard like Albany but they are simply efficient when they need to be and thats why when all was said and done this year they retained the No. 1 seed in the tournament. Midfielder Connor Kelly is the team’s Russell Wilson. Attackman Jared Bernhardt is the team’s Doug Baldwin. They lost their “Beast Mode,” in Matt Rambo last year but are right back where they want to be.
Albany (2) 14, Yale (3) 11. With a healthy Fields who doesn’t just score but elevates the play of everyone around him, the Greyhounds are just too high powered. Yale will keep pace for a while but Albany will pull away. Irlen will benefit from his work against Baptiste in this one and I don’t think Mackie will have as easy a time with him at the X.
Maryland (1) 11, Duke (4) 9. Maryland’s efficiency and stifling defense lands them in the championship round. Look for Tilman’s team to utilize multiple players to faceguard Guterding, a tactic they used to shut down Cornell’s Jeff Teat, one of the nation’s top offensive threats in the quarterfinals of the tournament.
Maryland (1)12, Albany (2) 11. In a game that will surely be a back and forth affair, experience will win out in the end. There actually isn’t a soul on Maryland’s roster who hasn’t experienced championship weekend. There also isn’t a soul on Albany’s roster who has experienced championship weekend. Maryland showed against Cornell that others can carry the team outside of Kelly, if Maryland can weather Albany’s storm and slow fields down, Nanticoke isn’t a player who will elevate the play of others around him and he is a freshman. Teams have caught on that he has a tendency to try to dodge through too many players at times. Maryland repeats.