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The Lax World Is in Disarray

Shenk Tank

By Gary R. Shenk

The groundballhog must not have seen its shadow. With the NCAA men's lacrosse tournament still six weeks away, spring madness has already begun.

In the last decade, the men's lacrosse season has been a foregone conclusion. The Final Four always drew from a small pool of powerhouses, with either Johns Hopkins or Syracuse taking national championship honors.

But this year the traditional lax hierarchy has been shaken up. Except for the defending champion Orangemen, who are still far above the rest of the competition and even better than last year, there may be more parity in the sport than ever before.

"It's one of those years when you don't know who's going to make it to the Final Four. There's only one team that will be there and that's Syracuse," Harvard forward Mickey Cavuoti said. "Any of the top 15 teams can make it."

While one can never count Hopkins out, the Baltimore sensation seems to have lost its divine right to be the best. For the first time in God-knows how-long, the 2-3 Hopkins squad has dropped from the Top 10 after unexpected losses to Syracuse, Rutgers and Virginia.

Meanwhile, the Ivy League has emerged to become without a doubt the best conference in the nation. While perennially strong Brown, Cornell and Pennsylvania have always made the league among the best, the trio of Harvard-Yale-Princeton has also now emerged into the top ranks.

These six schools are all in the top 16 in the country, with Yale and Brown grabbing unprecedented second and third spots. Another surprise has been 10th-ranked Princeton, who until last year was never competitive on a national level.

Two years ago, the Tiger athletic department decided that it wanted to build up Princeton as a lacrosse power, giving ex-Hopkins coach Bill Tierney a job as the highest-paid coach in the country.

"Yale, Princeton and Harvard are usually not expected to get as good recruits because admissions policies are more stern," Cavuoti said. "These programs got a few good years of recruiting, and now they're at the top."

Tierney has proved to be a miracle worker at Princeton. After a demoralizing 20-8 loss to Hopkins in its opener, the Tigers have rolled off five straight victories, including impressive road upsets of Navy and Rutgers.

Most of the intra-league games have not been played yet, meaning that Ivy schools will be knocking each other off in the next couple of weeks. With so much parity in the league, it will be the team that gets hot that takes top honors, securing a strong claim on a bid to the NCAAs.

Not Hot

Right now, the ninth-ranked Crimson are definitely not the hot team. Despite winning its first five games, Harvard has been unable to play well for an entire game yet this season.

Unlike Ivy rivals Yale and Brown, the Crimson have been unable to blow good teams out. Four of Harvard's five outings have been decided by two goals or less. Two have gone to double overtime, and three have required dramatic comebacks.

"We start off very slow. It takes us a while to kick into gear," first team All-Ivy defender Mike Murphy said. "We need a slap in the face to get started."

In a sport where it is hard to maintain intensity for an entire season, it may be a blessing that the Crimson is not peaking yet. But the squad must gain momentum in the coming weeks if it is to survive its treacherous schedule. Yale, Brown and Princeton loom ahead as key April contests for Harvard.

"Right now, we have people ahead of us and we have some goals," defender Chris Bentley said. "I'd rather be an underdog and play a team that's higher ranked."

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