NCAA lacrosse tournament heavy on new blood, light on blue-blood programs

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Sports,College,Kevin Dunleavy

Detroit, Bryant get in; Hopkins, Virginia out

Detroit and Bryant are in the NCAA lacrosse tournament for the first time, both with losing records. Johns Hopkins is on the sidelines for the first time in 42 years. Virginia is out for just the second time in 20 years. Princeton's season is over as well.

The result is an NCAA tournament that opens this weekend light on blue bloods and sprinkled with novices. Consider Bryant (8-10) and Detroit (5-9), teams that have both been playing Division I lacrosse for just five years but won their respective conference titles this season.

In the opening round of the NCAA tournament, the only matchup of lacrosse royalty is Cornell (12-3) at Maryland (10-3).

According to Terrapins coach John Tillman, a measure of parity has arrived because the growth of Division I lacrosse has lagged behind that of the youth level.

"When the game's not expanding at the Division I level as much as you'd like, and you're getting that much more growth at the youth level, there's gonna be more and more high school players to choose from," Tillman said. "People are looking outside the United States as well, looking at areas like Canada and Australia to find players, so you have a bigger pool of players, yet you still have a rather small number of Division I schools."

As a result, the disparity between the talent level of the best and worst college programs is shrinking. This year, parity was evident in the regular season like never before. No team enters the NCAA tournament with fewer than three losses, which has never happened.

ACC champion North Carolina (12-3) is ranked No. 1 in both polls, but is seeded fifth and will get a considerably tougher first-round opponent in Lehigh (12-4) than will top seed Syracuse (13-3), which hosts Bryant, or second seed Notre Dame (10-4), which faces Detroit.

No team may have a tougher first-round foe than Maryland. All three of the losses for Cornell came by a single goal. The Big Red rank No. 1 in a computer power rating index by laxpower.com yet are is unseeded, an indicator of how many quality teams are in the tournament.

There are also plenty of quality teams that came up short of making the tournament. Johns Hopkins (9-5) and Princeton (9-6) are Nos. 4 and 8 respectively in the computerized ranking system. Bucknell (12-4) won three of six games against teams that made the tournament.

These teams have found more competition recently from schools that have increased their emphasis on the sport. Three years ago, Penn State lured one of the nation's best coaches, Jeff Tambroni, from Cornell. The move paid dividends this season for the tournament-bound Nitany Lions (12-4).

"There are a lot of schools that are investing more in terms of coaching staffs and facilities. By doing that, players and teams are developing at a faster rate," Tillman said. "It's just hard. Any win at the Division I level is a win you'll take because you realize how difficult it is."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner