"NCAA lacrosse championships are only three years old," Peter Carry of Sports Illustrated wrote in 1973, "but already they have become one of the dandier events in sports." Since then, the NCAA has staged three more scintillating tournaments and at least one classic game, undefeated Cornell's 16-13 overtime victory over previously undefeated Maryland in last spring's final.
The 1977 get-together, which promises to be better than ever, opened Tuesday night when fifth-seeded Navy edged fourth-seeded Penn, 14-12. This reversal came only three days after the Quakers had stunned the Midshipmen in the final game of the regular season, 19-12.
The action shifted into high gear yesterday as the other six entrants got down to business.
Cornell coach Richie Moran said earlier this week that he was worried that his team would be "lethargic and complacent" against UMass, a squad the Big Red had already demolished this year, 17-9. You had to figure he was kidding, since his charges had won 26 straight games, but he was right.
Surprisingly, the Minutemen led the defending national champions in the third quarter last night, 9-8, before a surge gave Cornell a 17-13 triumph and a spot in the semi-finals.
Meanwhile, farther south, second-seeded Johns Hopkins blasted North Carolina, 16-9, and third-seeded Maryland eliminated fiesty Washington and Lee, 14-8. So, the same four teams that have dominated the tournament since its inception have all advanced to the semifinals.
Maryland has been invited to all seven playoffs, has missed the final only once--an incredible feat--and has taken the crown twice.
Hopkins missed the first tournament because of a dismal 3-7 regular-season record, but has since won a berth six straight years. The Blue Jays took the title in 1974 with a sterling senior class that had lost the two previous championship games, each time by a single goal. That would satisfy most schools, but not Johns Hopkins. The Blue Jays have garnered 27 national titles, generally by being the best more often than once in six years. They're hungry for another title this time around.
This is Cornell's fifth time in the tournament. The Big Red has reached the final twice, beating Maryland each time in the inaugural final in 1971 and again in last year's overtime thriller.
Navy has never won a title, but the Midshipmen have played in all seven tournaments. On only one occasion, when Virginia sprung a 13-12 upset on the Hopkins super sophomores in 1972, has the tournament title not gone to one of the four teams in this year's semi-finals.
Those semi-final games will take place Saturday. While Cornell will be meeting (and probably beating) Navy at Ithaca, Maryland and Hopkins will renew one of sports' hottest rivalries at Homewood Field in Baltimore.
The Terps and the Blue Jays met just last Saturday in both teams' regular-season finale. In one of the best games of this or any other lacrosse season, Hopkins tallied three late goals for a 21-20 overtime victory.
Either a Hopkins-Cornell or a Maryland-Cornell final would be a natural, the former because it would match the traditional champion against the high-powered modern program that seems to be laying the foundations for a dynasty. The second pairing, of course, would rematch the two teams that met in last spring's classic.