- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 29, 2004

BALTIMORE — Mike Powell is serious about stepping away from lacrosse — at least for a little while.

The Syracuse senior, who holds the program record with 297 points, said earlier this week he is ready to walk away from the sport after the fourth-seeded Orange (13-2) finish their season. Syracuse meets top-seeded Johns Hopkins (13-1) in today’s second NCAA tournament semifinal.

Powell followed in the footsteps of his brothers and former Syracuse stars Ryan and Casey and turned in one of the most impressive careers in the sport’s history. He’s likely to become the first Syracuse player to earn first-team All-America nods four times and is favored to win the Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation’s best player for the second time. He is also expected to be taken by Baltimore with the first pick in the Major League Lacrosse draft next month.

“After this season, it’s going to be about 15 years of competitive lacrosse for me — straight — and Mike Powell needs a break from that, for a little while anyways,” Powell said. “It might not be for too long, it might just be one summer, but I’m probably going to take this summer off just to sit back and relax and figure out what else I’m good at.”

For now, though, he’ll worry about Hopkins. The Blue Jays have embarrassed the Orange in their last two meetings — including a 17-5 rout in March — and Powell hinted Syracuse could change its usual up-tempo approach.

“It’s going to be a different than earlier on last year, that much I’ll promise you,” Powell said. “If that means slowing the ball down and taking the air out of the ball, that’s what we’re going to do. If that means running and gunning, I’d be more than happy to do that.”

Underestimated Tigers

Princeton spent much of this season in an unusual place — away from the spotlight.

The sixth-seeded Tigers (11-3), who face second-seeded Navy (14-2), are making their 10th final four appearance in the last 13 years but weren’t often mentioned as national title contenders in the weeks leading up to the postseason.

“You’re always looking for the ultimate motivation, and this is one where we were under the radar — and rightfully so,” Princeton coach Bill Tierney said. “We were not a good lacrosse team back in February and March.”

However, Princeton overcame an early blowout loss at Johns Hopkins and improved as the season went along. The Tigers won at Virginia to provide a jolt of confidence and later ground out low-scoring victories against Penn and Rutgers — hardly overwhelming performances but still impressive.

“We won a lot of two- or three-goal games against some good teams,” Tierney said. “Those were good teams, but we didn’t know it at the time. We just tried to plod along. [In recent years], the Internet has taken a bigger role and it’s easy for some unnamed, nondescript person to dictate what people are feeling and that’s fine. We’ve learned that we are who we are and we’re proud of who we are. If others want to take potshots, good for us.”

Turf talk

There will be no repeat of the rutty, bog-like field conditions at M&T; Bank Stadium that affected play in last year’s final four. Just weeks after the title game, the sod was ripped up and replaced with Field Turf, an artificial surface that has gained popularity in recent years.

Perhaps no team will benefit from the new surface more than Syracuse, which never got its dodge-heavy offense on track in last year’s 19-8 semifinal loss to Johns Hopkins.

“Just to know we’re on Field Turf and there’s not a chance of it coming up, and not being like it was last year makes me come in with a different mindset,” Powell said. “I think last year we got caught up in the atmosphere too much and caught up in [the fact that] the grass is wet and we’re not going to play any good. … This year it’s a surface that’s going to be consistent and the main thing for me, and I’m sure everyone else will agree.”

It should also help a team used to playing on turf like Hopkins. The Blue Jays also got mired in difficult field conditions in last year’s title game loss to Virginia.

“It’s nice knowing that the field is not going to be like last year,” Hopkins midfielder Kyle Harrison said. “I don’t want to say that was an excuse, because it wasn’t and we didn’t play well, but [the field] stunk. But with the Field Turf, it’s great for all teams. I don’t think it’s like playing on turf, but it’s a lot better than playing on regular grass.”

Turnstile time

As of noon yesterday, 41,117 tickets had been sold for today’s games, but plenty of seats remain available because tournament organizers have opened the north end of the upper deck for the semifinals.

The upper deck has not yet been opened for tomorrow or Monday. More than 39,000 tickets have been purchased for tomorrow’s session of the Division II and Division III championships, while 40,327 have already bought tickets to Monday’s Division I title game.

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