- The Washington Times - Saturday, March 5, 2005

ANNAPOLIS — Navy has made little secret of its desire to prove last season’s feel-good run to the NCAA championship game was no fluke.

After the fifth-ranked Midshipmen dismantled No. 7 North Carolina 9-6 yesterday before 4,449 at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, it’s impossible to describe them as anything but national title contenders.

“A big game like Carolina is kind of like a litmus test of how well are we going to [play] this season,” defenseman Mitch Hendler said. “We played well, we hustled, we got groundballs, we just played Navy [lacrosse], and that was the best part. I’m super-happy we won, but playing the way Navy plays — the way we played last year — was good to see.”

Steve Looney had four goals, nine groundballs and an assist in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score. The Mids (3-0) jumped to a 7-2 halftime lead, dominated faceoffs and suffocated North Carolina in the midfield en route to their third straight victory over the Tar Heels (1-1).

“I’m really happy for my players,” Navy coach Richie Meade said. “We’ve worked extremely hard, we’ve had some adversity and if this shows that we have a very good team, then I’m happy. That’s what it shows to me.”

The victory sends Navy into the bulk of its Patriot League schedule undefeated. If the Mids, who were perfect in Patriot play last season, emerge unscathed from the next five conference games, they will be 8-0 entering a challenging April stretch that includes meetings with No. 1 Johns Hopkins, No. 3 Maryland, No. 8 Georgetown and No. 15 Army.

It also alleviated some of the concerns about Navy’s offense, which lost attackman Ian Dingman to academic troubles in January.

“It was good because people had doubts about how well we would play,” faceoff specialist Chris Pieczonka said. “If you look at the game today, we won as a team. A team is the sum of the parts.”

Looney and Pieczonka (13-for-18) didn’t give North Carolina much of a chance, combining to thwart the Tar Heels’ inexperienced faceoff committee. The pair efficiently controlled possession in the first half, often jump-starting transition opportunities.

Their dominance was especially evident after North Carolina closed to 3-2. Within six seconds, Pieczonka had pushed the ball to Looney, who scooped up the groundball, raced downfield and scored. Seven seconds later, Looney scored again off a feed from Nick Mirabito. The Mids slipped two more goals past Carolina goalie Paul Spellman (16 saves) before the break.

“Our momentum just went down the drain right after that,” said North Carolina attackman Jed Prossner (three goals). “We had a goal. We thought we had stuff going our way, and immediately [Navy had a] fast break and a goal.”

After building the large lead, Navy was content to euthanize the Tar Heels with long possessions throughout he second half. North Carolina did manage three goals in less than three minutes late in the fourth quarter, but it did little more than make the drubbing appear less severe.

Navy sustained little damage from Prossner, an All-American last year, simply because it kept the ball away from him. The Mids outshot the Tar Heels 43-19 and forced North Carolina into nine botched clears, alleviating pressure on goalie Matt Russell (eight saves) and the defense.

“You’re not going to win many lacrosse games taking 19 shots,” North Carolina coach John Haus said. “I think our concerns now are when you don’t win faceoffs and you don’t clear the ball, it’s not a real good combination.”

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