Lacrosse Final Four preview

Jordan Wolf of the Duke Blue Devils handles

Jordan Wolf of the Duke Blue Devils handles the ball against the Maryland Terrapins. (March 3, 2012) (Credit: Getty Images)

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One game matches two schools that have elbowed their way from the middle of the pack to the forefront of emerging elite programs. The other matches two college lacrosse bluebloods.

In Saturday's opener, Loyola (Md.), the nation's No. 1-ranked team, featuring a run-and-gun offense led by Tewaaraton finalist Mike Sawyer, faces gritty Notre Dame, the nation's top defensive team, which preaches patience and shot selection on offense and has stellar goalie John Kemp.

"We can't give them easy goals," Fighting Irish coach Kevin Corrigan said. "Keep them out of those transition situations."

In the second game, ACC rivals Maryland and Duke will reprise last year's semifinal, won by the Terrapins, 9-4. They are familiar foes, as this will be their sixth meeting in the last 15 months.

"They have a good idea of our personnel and how we play, and vice versa," Maryland coach John Tillman said.

The Terps play a deliberate, clock-killing style. Duke, with Tewaraaton finalist and superb long-stick middie C.J. Costabile, would like a faster pace.

"Stay between them and the goal. Slide to guys when you need to and get to their hands," is the recipe Duke coach John Danowski would like to use.

The Blue Devils have lost to the other three teams in this year's Final Four. "You can't have big wins unless you play big games," said Danowski, the former Hofstra coach.

Among the key Long Island players who will showcase their skills at the home of the New England Patriots are: Maryland midfielders Mike Chanenchuk (St. Anthony's) and Charlie Raffa (St. Anthony's) and defenseman Michael Ehrhardt (Chaminade); Duke midfielder Justin Turri (West Islip); Notre Dame attack Sean Rogers (Holy Trinity) and midfielder Steve Murphy (Floyd).

LOYOLA (16-1)

TOP PLAYERS: Tewaaraton finalist Mike Sawyer has 51 goals (with only 8 assists) and Eric Lusby leads Greyhounds with 61 points (45 goals). Justin Ward (30 assists) is the top playmaker. Their "rope unit" of long-stick middies, led by Scott Ratliff (19 points, a team-high 79 ground balls), is considered the best in the nation.

KEY STATS: Loyola is No. 4 in the country in scoring (12.53 gpg) and No. 5 in man-up opportunities, converting 48 percent.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Canisius, 17-5, in the first round and edged Denver, 10-9, in the quarterfinals to earn first Final Four appearance since 1998.

WHAT TO EXPECT: If they can, the Greyhounds will live up to their nickname and play fast. They love the transition game and will make you pay for taking penalties.

MARYLAND (11-5)

TOP PLAYERS: Attack Joe Cummings (30 goals, 45 points) and Owen Blye (20 assists) lead the offense. Sniper Mike Chanenchuk (St. Anthony's), a transfer from Princeton, has 16 goals in 16 games. Defenseman Jesse Bernhardt (52 ground balls, 32 caused turnovers) anchors a fierce defense. Charlie Raffa (St. Anthony's) shares faceoff duties with Curtis Holmes.

KEY STATS: Defense is ranked No. 9 nationally, allowing 7.75 gpg. Man-up offense ranked No. 15 (41.9 percent).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Maryland squeaked by Lehigh, 10-9, in the first round and was impressive in an 11-5 victory over rival Johns Hopkins in the quarterfinals.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Terrapins will patiently milk the clock if they get an early lead. A rebuilt roster (they had to replace 22 seniors) has been more consistent the last couple of weeks.

NOTRE DAME (13-2)

TOP PLAYERS: Junior John Kemp is considered the best goalie in the nation (6.22 goals-against average; 63.6 save percentage). Sean Rogers (Holy Trinity) leads the defense-oriented Fighting Irish with 21 goals. Jim Marlatt is the leading scorer with 30 points (18 goals). Steve Murphy (Floyd) had a career game in quarterfinal victory with two goals and two assists.

KEY STATS: Notre Dame is No. 1 in the country on defense, allowing just 6 gpg, and is also No. 1 in man-down situations (87.9 percent.

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Yale, 13-7, in the first round and knocked off defending national champion Virginia, 12-10, in the quarterfinals.

WHAT TO EXPECT: Slide-and-recover defense is suffocating and Kemp cleans up any mistakes. Offensively, Notre Dame doesn't get many shots so must shoot a high percentage.

DUKE (15-4)

TOP PLAYERS: Dynamic sophomore attack Jordan Wolf (63 points, 32 goals) is one of the nation's fastest players. Robert Rotanz leads the Blue Devils with 38 goals. Josh Dionne (35 goals) completes a dangerous attack. Justin Turri (West Islip) is a cagey veteran at midfield and Tewaaraton finalist C.J. Costabile is a faceoff and ground-ball demon.

KEY STATS: Offense is ranked No. 12 (11.28 gpg) and Blue Devils are also No. 12 in faceoff wins (55.7 percent, thanks mainly to Costabile).

HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Syracuse, 12-9, in the first round and put on an offensive clinic in routing Colgate, 17-6, in the quarterfinals.

WHAT TO EXPECT: If Costabile controls faceoffs, Duke could be explosive. Devils thrive in defense-to-offense transition.

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