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Lacrosse’s final four doesn’t have the familiar feel of yesteryear

CHESTER, Pa. — A defining trait of this year's lacrosse final four isn't just who advanced to next weekend in Foxborough, Mass., though Notre Dame and Duke earned their semifinal spots a day after Loyola and Maryland did the same.

It is who, at long last, did not.

With Johns Hopkins and Virginia dispatched this weekend and Princeton and Syracuse bounced in the first round, none of bluebloods who so efficiently lorded over the sport for much of the past two decades remains in the tournament field.

The last time there was a final four without Hopkins, Syracuse and Virginia was 1975. Back then, the semifinals and final weren't even held on the same weekend.

What's more, the four remaining teams account for just three of the previous 41 tournament championships, with Duke's 2010 crown the only one within the past 36 years. Maryland has the other two — in 1973 and 1975.

Chatter within the sport began to center on creeping unpredictability years ago, particularly when Notre Dame finally broke through to the final four in 2001.

More than a decade later, the Fighting Irish are postseason regulars and advanced to the season's last weekend for the second time in three years. Once an unpredictable party crasher, Notre Dame is firmly part of lacrosse's growing elite.

"The parity has been there," Notre Dame coach Kevin Corrigan said Sunday after the Irish handled Virginia 12-10 at PPL Park. "The only thing where the parity hadn't shown up is in the winner's circle. Duke's the only one to crack that winner's circle outside the teams that have won multiple championships. This was coming. I guess this is the year it arrives. But I think anyone really paying attention saw this coming."

That goes for both sides of the equation.

From 1992 to 2002, the core four of Hopkins, Princeton, Syracuse and Virginia accounted for 33 of 44 semifinal appearances. Yet Princeton's most recent final four came in 2004, and the Orange have missed five of the past eight semifinals after a run of 22 straight appearances.

Their respective absences were not a jolt this year; the same cannot be said for second-seeded Hopkins. Maryland manhandled the Blue Jays on Saturday, leaving coach Dave Pietramala's program with its first four-year semifinal drought.

Virginia's loss Sunday completed the elimination of the powers from a generation ago, though the defending national champion Cavaliers spent much of the season atop the national polls and are far from fading in the big picture.

There are more than a few programs who can claim a place near the top of the sport. Four of them happened to survive this weekend.

Third-seeded Duke, which pummeled Colgate 17-6 on Sunday, is making its sixth straight final four trip and is firmly the leader of the sport's nouveau riche. Fourth-seeded Notre Dame also was part of that group even before the Irish's depth and sizzling goalie play wore down Virginia.

The other two semifinalists were far more familiar entities 15 years ago, and both have made different sorts of surges in recent years to re-establish themselves.

Top-seeded Loyola, which will face Notre Dame on Saturday, opened the season unranked before unleashing a roster of pieces that effectively complement each other. The result is the Greyhounds' first final four since 1998 and a chance for the Baltimore school to win its first national title.

Maryland never faded quite so noticeably, though last year's surprise run to the title game as an unseeded team was the Terrapins' first since 1998. This month, Maryland edged Lehigh and ripped Hopkins to become the first team to make back-to-back final fours as an unseeded team.

Not long ago, the remaining quartet would have stunned the sport. With three of the top four seeds and a finalist from last season still standing, perhaps the biggest surprise is not the absence of the powers from a generation ago but rather that it probably cannot be construed as much of a shock.

"I certainly think there's a lot of parity, and you saw that this year," Maryland coach John Tillman said. "Everything's a little different now."

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