- The Washington Times - Saturday, May 25, 2002

Virginia, Syracuse, Princeton and Johns Hopkins play each other every March to prepare for the grind of the lacrosse season.

Not coincidentally, the four teams which started the season ranked one through four in the polls are the squads left standing this weekend in the NCAA Division I men's Final Four.

Top-seeded Johns Hopkins (12-1) plays defending national champion and fourth-seeded Princeton (9-4) at 11:30 a.m. at Rutgers in Piscataway, N.J. Third-seeded Virginia (11-3) and second-seeded Syracuse (13-2) will face off 45 minutes following the first semifinal. The winners will meet Monday for the title.

"We think about Syracuse throughout the season," said Virginia coach Dom Starsia, whose Cavaliers lost to the Orangemen 15-13 on March 2.

Today will be the fifth time in nine years Virginia and Syracuse have met in the tournament, four of them in the final four. The Cavaliers gained the 1999 title with a 12-10 win over the Orangemen.

That game was played at a slower pace than most Virginia-Syracuse matchups, and Starsia believes his team will have to repeat that strategy to beat the Orangemen, who Starsia calls the "most talented team" left in the tournament.

"At this moment, I'm not sure we want to get up and down the field for 60 minutes," Starsia said. "It could be played at a different style."

Meanwhile, Princeton showed it could play a running style in its quarterfinal victory against Georgetown, which pushed the tempo for four quarters. Don't expect Johns Hopkins to force any tempo on the Tigers, who are renowned for their tenacity on the offensive end and have won six championships in the last 11 years.

Johns Hopkins and Princeton opened the season March 2 in Baltimore, and the Blue Jays held the Tigers to two goals in the first 55-plus minutes in an 8-5 win. Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala has his team believing in itself, and the Blue Jays are 6-0 in one-goal games. Their only loss was 12-6 to the Cavaliers.

"The one word we've used to describe this team is resilient," said Pietramala, who led Hopkins to its seventh and last national title in 1987 as arguably the greatest defensive player ever. "We're back to the old days at Hopkins, a lot of details. I thought Princeton won all those one-goal games, overtime games and championships by taking care of the little things."

A look at the keys to each of the semifinal games:

•Johns Hopkins-Princeton: Freshman Kyle Harrison has been tremendous on faceoffs this season, and his success will have to continue today. Hopkins will want to have as many possessions as possible, because Princeton's one weakness is goalie Julian Gould, who has been inconsistent. The more shots the better for the Blue Jays.

Hopkins has been unbeatable in one-goal games this season, but Princeton coach Bill Tierney is the expert in one-goal victories. His teams have won their past five tournament games by that margin, and Tierney is 13-1 in the tournament when the contest is decided by one.

•Syracuse-Virginia: Both teams were horrible in faceoffs last week but managed one-goal victories, thanks in part to each team's stars. The Cavaliers' Conor Gill set a tournament record with nine assists and likely will become Virginia's first three-time first-team All-American when the team is announced Monday. Mike Powell was as effective for the Orangemen with four assists, and will be the toughest assignment for the Cavaliers.

Virginia's win over Cornell was huge for its defense's confidence, which was shook after ACC Player of the Year Mark Koontz was lost for the year in the ACC tournament final. The Cavaliers lost to Duke in the final and fell to Penn State a week later. But Starsia and his staff made some adjustments, most notably going to junior Ned Bowen in favor of David Burman on close defense.

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