Do you like the blue bloods or the new bloods?
That’s an overriding theme for both the men and women for this weekend’s college lacrosse showcase event, the Final Four, being played for the first time at the same venue — Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
Or to put it another way, can anyone prevent Maryland, the No. 1 seed in both, from sweeping the men’s and women’s Division I titles, duplicating what North Carolina accomplished a year ago?
The Maryland men have a recent history of success and frustration, having reached four consecutive Final Fours and six of the last seven under coach John Tillman. But the Terrapins lost in the finals the past two years, including an agonizing overtime defeat in 2016, as well as in 2011 and 2012. Their last men’s title was in 1975. They face 2015 titlist Denver, while Ohio State, in its first Final Four, faces Towson, making its first appearance since 2001, in the other men’s semifinal.
The Maryland women were upset by UNC last year after winning it all in 2014 and 2015. They have won 12 NCAA titles and enter Saturday’s semifinal against Penn State with a 21-0 record after a come-from-behind 13-12 squeaker over Stony Brook last week. Upstarts Navy and Boston College meet in the other women’s semifinal, the first Final Four for either school.
Tillman laughed ruefully, but expressed no special sense of urgency, when asked earlier this week about coming so close so often. “I don’t ever take that for granted. I’m blessed to get here and each one is special,” Tillman said. “We certainly have put ourselves in a position at times to have gotten to Monday and not quite finished. Obviously there were teams in the way that were a big reason for that.”
That will be the case against coach Bill Tierney’s Pioneers, who feature the nation’s best faceoff specialist and Tewaaraton finalist, Trevor Baptiste. The powerful 5-9, 215-pound former football player from Denville, New Jersey won 21 of 22 draws in a victory over Notre Dame last Saturday at Hofstra. “You can’t score if you never get the ball,” Tillman said. “We’ve got to put a lot of time in and figure out ways to get possessions or we’re going to be fighting up stream all day. He’s a handful.”
Baptiste leads the nation in faceoff win percentage, 75.6, which has helped him rank second in ground balls, 10.75 per game. Those are remarkable numbers, especially when you consider he originally expected to play Division III lacrosse at Franklin & Marshall. “Coach T called me my senior year in high school and I said, ‘Are you sure you’ve got the right guy?’ ’’ Baptiste said with a laugh after his performance at Hofstra. “And it kind of went from there.”
Depending on how Baptiste, and Maryland’s Tewaaraton finalist, attack Matt Rambo (40 goals, 43 assists, 83 points) perform, the weekend may not only decide the national championship, but also the men’s Tewaaraton winner.
For Tillman’s Terps, only one of those really matters.
LONG ISLAND CONNECTION
Maryland men: Redshirt junior attack/middie Tim Rotanz (Wading River/Shoreham-Wading River), fully recovered from vertigo that cost him his entire 2015 season, is a first-line midfielder and scoring threat with 40 points (29 goals). Senior captain Tim Muller (Garden City/Chaminade) starts on defense and was voted 2017 Big Ten Defensive Player of the Year. Sophomore Austin Henningsen (Northport) is a faceoff specialist who will try to slow down Denver’s Tewaaraton finalist, Trevor Baptiste.
Ohio State men: Sophomore Matt Borges (Garden City) starts on defense for one of the nation’s top defensive teams (8.26 goals per game).
Boston College women: Sophomore attacker Sam Apuzzo (West Babylon) leads the team in scoring with 111 points, including 74 goals. Junior attacker Kaileen Hart (Babylon) has totaled 71 points (47 goals). Sophomore Lauren Daly (Shoreham/Shoreham-Wading River) shares the goalie position.
Maryland women: Senior defender Nadine Hadnagy (Farmingdale), a Tewaaraton finalist, has started every game and is among the team leaders in groundballs.
Penn State women: Senior midfielder Taylor Bleistein (Bayville/Locust Valley) has started 19 games and scored 15 goals. Freshman midfielder/defender Kristin Roberto (Miller Place) is a versatile sub who has played in every game.
— BOB HERZOG
COLLEGE LACROSSE CHAMPIONSHIP WEEKEND
At Gillette Stadium, Foxborough, Mass.
Division I Women’s Semifinals
No. 4 Penn State (17-3) vs. No. 1 Maryland (21-0), 5 p.m.
Boston College (16-6) vs. Navy (18-4), 7:30 p.m.
Division I Men’s Semifinals
Towson (12-4) vs. No. 3 Ohio State (15-4), Noon
No. 5 Denver (13-3) vs. No. 1 Maryland (14-3), 2:30 p.m.
Division I Women’s Final
Semifinal winners, 11 a.m.
Division II Men’s Final
Merrimack (15-3) vs. Limestone (20-1), 2 p.m.
Division II Men’s Final
Salisbury (21-1) vs. RIT (20-2), 5p.m.
Division I Men’s Final
Semifinal winners, 1 p.m.