- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 14, 2009

Richie Meade has made early-season goalie changes before.

Navy’s lacrosse coach can only hope this one pays off as much as his most notable switch in the past.

Meade turned to RJ Wickham two weeks ago, and after a last-second loss to Bucknell the No. 15 Midshipmen (5-2, 2-1 Patriot) have won three straight entering Saturday’s visit to Holy Cross.

“At the end of the day, everybody’s got to go out and play,” Meade said. “I think he’s played pretty well. He’s not all the way there, but he’s played pretty well for a guy who’s kind of been thrown in there. He’s making the saves he’s supposed to.”

Senior Matt Coughlin began the year as the starter but saved fewer than half of the shots he faced in the first three games. That led Meade to look to Wickham, the first freshman to start at Navy since Mickey Jarboe in 1997, ahead of senior Tommy Phelan.

The new role places plenty of scrutiny on Wickham, but it’s not a new situation at Navy. Meade inserted Matt Russell early in the 2004 season instead of incumbent Seth DiNola - and Russell helped the Mids reach the national title game. This situation might not work out as well, but Wickham has provided some stability, saving 53.4 percent of shots on goal.

“I think he’s doing fine,” Meade said. “He’s kind of under the microscope a little bit. Every time something goes wrong - ‘Oh my God, he didn’t do that.’ He’s doing fine. I think he’s doing a pretty good job of working with the defense.”

Change in Charlottesville

On the surface, it doesn’t seem too different than last year - top-ranked Virginia is unbeaten in mid-March and looks like a national title contender.

Up close, though, the Cavaliers (8-0) are a more predictable bunch than a season ago. And that’s a good thing to coach Dom Starsia.

“You are struck by the differences between the teams,” Starsia said. “I felt like last year it was more of a crapshoot from week to week and we were getting by. It was like pulling a rabbit out of a hat.

Not so in this go-round, and the change has manifested itself during a stretch of seven games in 22 days that ends Saturday. Starsia said he sees a more responsible bunch that has avoided lapses in midweek games, playing well against undermanned opposition rather than just slogging through.

“I can’t do Knute Rockne seven times in 20 days and expect that to have much of an effect,” Starsia said. “We have the confidence of more veteran leadership than last year, and I’m a little more confident in our ability to sustain. Even if we don’t win, I feel like we are on a more reliable and consistent course.”

Return of the Tigers

It’s difficult to believe that Princeton, which ruled much of the 1990s along with Syracuse, has reached only one final four in the past six years.

That slide could end this season. The No. 3 Tigers are off to their first 4-0 start since 1997 and already own defeats of Johns Hopkins and UMBC. With a revitalized offense and solid play from goalie Tyler Fiorito, who is yielding fewer than seven goals a game, Princeton might have its best team since losing in the 2002 title game.

“This team, from Day One, has been focused to try to turn this thing around,” coach Bill Tierney said. “So far, so good.”

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