- The Washington Times - Monday, May 26, 2003

BALTIMORE — Virginia coach Dom Starsia knows what’s coming. Stopping it will be the tough part.

Starsia’s second-seeded Cavaliers (14-2) face the task of containing the balanced and deep offense of top-seeded Johns Hopkins (14-1) in this morning’s NCAA championship game at M&T; Bank Stadium.

Eight Blue Jays scored in their 19-8 dissection of Syracuse in Saturday’s semifinals. Seven Hopkins players have at least 30 points this season. Hopkins, which is seeking its first title since 1987, is also the best passing team in the country, something the Cavaliers will need to be wary of today.

“They bop the ball around as well as any team I’ve seen in the last couple years,” Starsia said. “You might be mesmerized watching Syracuse zing the ball inside and guys make unbelievable catches, but that’s not Hopkins’ way. Hopkins is more disciplined on offense, but if you slide to them in situations where you don’t need to, they’re going to make you pay. They move the ball around the perimeter like no team I’ve seen in some time.”

Hopkins’ greatest concern is probably Virginia goalie Tillman Johnson. The junior made 18 saves in the Cavaliers’ 14-4 semifinal romp over Maryland and has demonstrated the ability to take over games throughout the season.

“You can’t come down and take the first available shot against Tillman Johnson,” said Johns Hopkins coach Dave Pietramala, whose team is in the final for the first time since 1989. “You have to work to get the best available shot. Sometimes you have to give up a 10-yarder to work a little harder to get a four-yarder. He’s going to make saves, and we have to keep shooting. We can’t get frustrated because he’s the kind of kid who can frustrate you.”

Benson’s last stand

Hopkins senior Bobby Benson will play his final game today and probably will join Terry Riordan (1992-95) as the only players to lead in the program in goals for four years since the NCAA restored freshman eligibility in 1972.

The Baltimore native has a career-high 40 goals — four more than teammate Kyle Barrie — but Pietramala is far more impressed with Benson’s other contributions.

“I’ve never in my career coached a more intelligent lacrosse player or a player who works so hard to know the game and teach it to his teammates,” Pietramala said. “It bothers me that people criticize him because he doesn’t get a lot of goals off the dodge or because he’s not a flashy player. He’s an old-school crease guy.

“He does more for us than anybody can ever imagine. I see it every day with the growth of Kyle Harrison, Kyle Barrie, Peter LaSueur. That’s a direct reflection of not only our staff, but also of Bob Benson.”

Benson, though, still doesn’t have a title. That could change today.

“Coming into Hopkins, I didn’t know what to expect for myself,” Benson said. “I just wanted to play as well as I could and I wanted our team to win a national championship. All the goals, I’d give them back if I could get one ring.”

Slip ‘n’ sod

Four games in two days have torn up the turf in spots, so field conditions could play a factor today. The possibility of rain could make matters worse, especially for players who exploit their quickness like Virginia attackman John Christmas.

Neither coach, though, believes the turf will give either team a decided edge.

“Do I think it affects each team in a game? Sure,” Pietramala said. “When you’ve got talented athletes like that they are going to find a way to get it done. They are going to adjust their game to the surface.”

It won’t matter next year when the final four returns to Baltimore. This is the last event to be played on grass, as an artificial surface will be installed in time for the Baltimore Ravens’ preseason opener in August.

Salisbury, NYIT win titles

Chris Phillips scored 29 seconds into overtime as Salisbury defeated Middlebury 14-13 for the Division III championship. Josh Bergey had four goals and four assists for the Sea Gulls (19-1), who won their first title since 1999. The loss ended a three-year title run for the Panthers (17-2).

In the Division II final, New York Institute of Technology (14-0) won its first title, defeating Limestone 9-4.

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