Top-seeded Virginia's mind-set key factor in Final Four

BY BOB HERZOG | bob.herzog@newsday.com

Can No. 1 Virginia continue to put aside the distractions surrounding the murder charge against one of its players and defeat rival Duke? Which team in the Division I "upset" bracket, Cornell or Notre Dame, will reach the championship game? Those are two of the story lines for lacrosse's Memorial Day weekend extravaganza at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore, which begins with Saturday's semifinals. An additional Long Island story line: Can C.W. Post make it back-to-back national championships in Sunday's Division II title game against No. 1 Le Moyne?

Cornell came agonizingly close to winning the title last season, losing the lead in the final seconds of regulation and the game in overtime against Syracuse. Can the Big Red erase that memory this weekend? Cornell features a strong attack, led by Rob Pannell and Ryan Hurley. Faceoff artist Austin Boykin can be a big factor. Its defense is young, with freshman Mike Bronzino and Jason Noble among those protecting first-year goalie A.J. Fiore. Notre Dame is riding high after tournament upsets over Princeton and Maryland. Goalie Scott Rodgers has been superb since returning from a hamstring injury and faceoff man Trever Sipperly is one of the best. The offense features attack Sean Rogers and middies David Earl and Zach Brenneman. The Irish's real strength is its close defense. Both teams are patient, content to have long possessions, and neither team runs a lot, though the Big Red can be dangerous in transition.

It's impossible to know if the burden of dealing with the Yeardley Love tragedy has had an eroding effect on the Cavaliers. They didn't look razor-sharp in their 10-9 victory over Stony Brook on Sunday. Still, they are No. 1 for good reason, and as goalie Adam Ghitelman said after the Virginia women's team was eliminated, "We really want to win for them now." The Bratton twins, Shamel and Rhamel, offer speed, elusiveness and hard shots from the wings. They lead a talented and deep midfield corp. Attack Steele Stanwick is an elite feeder. Ghitelman has been hot. Defenseman Ken Clausen is a Tewaaraton finalist. Duke counters with the country's best attack unit, featuring Tewaaraton Trophy favorite Ned Crotty (No. 1 in the country with 60 assists), Max Quinzani and Zach Howell. What has bedeviled Duke a bit is the goalie situation. In last week's victory over North Carolina, Dan Wigrizer and Mike Rock split time.

Factoids

Virginia has won four national titles and Cornell three. Duke never has won it all but has lost in the title game twice. Notre Dame never has been to the championship game . . . All Division I game times are later this year, for TV purposes. Last year's semifinals began at noon and the title game was at 1 p.m. This year's semis begin at 4 p.m. and the title game is at 3:30 p.m.

Long Island links

All four semifinalists feature key players from Long Island. Cornell's offense starts with sophomore attack Rob Pannell from Smithtown West, the nation's leader at 4.59 points per game (78 points, 49 assists). Freshman attack Steve Mock of Huntington and junior middie David Lau of Cold Spring Harbor had big games before friends and family at Stony Brook. Notre Dame's leading scorer is junior middie Zach Brenneman of East Hampton (36 points, 23 goals). Sophomore attack Sean Rogers of Holy Trinity has 12 goals. Senior goalie Scott Rodgers of MacArthur is No. 4 in the country in goals-against average (7.74). Virginia features the Bratton brothers of Huntington, Shamel (23 goals) and Rhamel (22 goals). Senior middie Max Pomper of St. Anthony's is an important defender. Goalie Adam Ghitelman (Cold Spring Harbor) is No. 4 in the country in goals-against average (7.88). Duke junior attack Zach Howell of Huntington is the team's No. 3 scorer (64 points, 47 goals) and sophomore attack Justin Turri of West Islip is No. 4 (32 points, 16 goals). Bay Shore junior goalie Mike Rock shares the starting spot.

Coach connections

Two coaches also have ties to Long Island, John Danowski of Duke and Dom Starsia of Virginia. Danowski made his coaching mark at Hofstra, guiding the school for 21 years (1986-2006). During his reign, the Pride became a perennial top-20 team and earned eight NCAA Tournament bids. Danowski, who coached at C.W. Post from 1983-85, took over the Blue Devils in 2006. In his first season there, he led Duke to the Final Four. The Blue Devils were there last spring and they're back again. Starsia has unusual Long Island roots. He is a native of Valley Stream and a 1970 graduate of Valley Stream Central, but he played only football in high school and never saw a lacrosse game until he entered college at Brown. He, too, is back for a second straight Final Four appearance. Starsia has been a classy and composed voice for the program in the aftermath of the Yeardley Love tragedy and its impact on the men's team.

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