Suburban Maryland's Stevenson University one win away from first Division III lacrosse title

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It was interesting that Stevenson University junior Brent Hiken estimated his faceoff counterpart in the NCAA semifinals to be 6-foot-5 and 280 pounds. Salisbury senior Tyler Granell is actually 6-3 and 215 pounds.

Such is the perception that players from Stevenson, in the suburbs northwest of Baltimore, have of Division III powerhouse Salisbury, a winner of 10 national championships in the last 19 years. Since joining the Capital Athletic Conference in 2007, Stevenson has competed hard with its nemesis in the regular season but always been dwarfed by the Seagulls in the playoffs.

Up next
Stevenson vs. Rochester
Institute of Technology
When » Sunday, 4 p.m.
Where » Lincoln Financial Field,
Philadelphia

On Saturday however, the Mustangs finally overcame Salisbury 12-6 to advance to the NCAA title game for the first time.

On Sunday, when Stevenson (21-2) plays Rochester Institute of Technology (19-2), it will match teams that have never been in an NCAA championship game. It is the first time that has happened in the 34-year history of the Division III tournament. RIT enters on a similar high after toppling its nemesis, undefeated SUNY Cortland, 10-9 in overtime.

For Division III teams used to playing in front of intimate gatherings, the title game is a different proposition. When Stevenson beat Salisbury on Saturday night, there was a program-record crowd of 2,311 at Mustang Stadium. On Sunday, however, at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, that number could increase tenfold. The last time Philadelphia hosted the finals, Salisbury and Cortland drew 24,041 for the 2006 title game.

"Both teams will be nervous early, that's for sure," Stevenson coach Paul Cantabene, a native of Rochester, said. "I think we're both in the same situation there -- going through the same logistics, trying to figure out the best way to get our teams ready."

One advantage Stevenson hopes to count on will be at faceoffs. Hiken (5-10, 223), a junior, has won 71.7 percent to rank No. 4 in Division III. Sophomore Sam Wyatt (5-11, 230) has won 67.7 percent to rank No. 7. They are the only pair of teammates in the top 50. Against tougher competition in the playoffs, they have been just as effective, leading Stevenson to a 75-33 edge (69.4 percent).

"They're a little bit different," Cantabene said. "Sam's a big, strong guy, kinda beats you up a little bit more. Brent's more a finesse guy, yet he has good strength too."

It's little wonder that Stevenson excels at faceoffs. The 43-year-old Cantabene, an All-America at Loyola, ranks fourth in Major League Lacrosse history in faceoff wins.

"There are no shortcuts with coach Canabene where faceoffs are concerned," said Hiken, who came to Stevenson after two years of community college.

Growing up "30 seconds away," on Owings Mills Boulevard, and coming to lacrosse camps as a kid, Hiken was destined to play at Stevenson. The same is not true of Wyatt, who is from Brentwood, Tenn., coming a long way in more ways than one.

"I had never heard of Stevenson," said Wyatt. "When I got here, [Cantabene] said, 'I saw you took some faceoffs in high school.' He just put me out there last year and I [struggled]. Totally different deal this year."

kdunleavy@washingtonexaminer.com

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Kevin Dunleavy

Staff writer - sports
The Washington Examiner