- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 23, 2008

Last Memorial Day weekend in college lacrosse’s showcase event, an obvious thread connected the four semifinalists.

Eventual champion Johns Hopkins had Paul Rabil and Stephen Peyser anchoring its midfield. Cornell’s best player was do-it-all dynamo Max Seibald. Both Delaware and Duke had enough options to create offense away from the crease.

And it got the attention of a lot of people.

“If you watched the final four last year, you walked away saying ‘Big middies, big middies, big middies’ with Rabil and Peyser and Seibald,” Maryland coach Dave Cottle said. “They were definitely big, strong kids that had an impact on the game.”

It might just be a case of what is old is again new.

The big, athletic midfielder who had the potential to play multiple roles never entirely disappeared, even as specialization took root even at the high school level.

In recent seasons, Kyle Harrison did a little of everything for Johns Hopkins’ title team in 2005, and Kyle Dixon was a vital weapon for Virginia when it went 17-0 a year later.

But it was more pronounced last season and figures to be again with preseason No. 1 Hopkins bringing back both Rabil and Peyser to torment opposing defenses.

“One of the differences between Hopkins and these other schools are they have guys that are like that,” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “They have guys making plays in those situations. People talk about parity, but there aren’t a lot of Paul Rabils out there. A long as they go to the Hopkins, the Syracuses and the Virginias, those teams are going to be at the very top.”

While none of the teams in the area have a true superstar midfielder, each has at least one who could be the crucial piece in a title contender.

Georgetown sophomore Andrew Brancaccio scored 20 goals last season and should be even better this spring. Maryland has juniors Dan Groot and Jeremy Sieverts. Virginia added Duke transfer Peter Lamade, and Navy sophomore Basil Daratsos has come back from ACL surgery in August to play some in the Midshipmen’s first two games.

If any of those guys take a significant step this year, their teams probably will have a decent chance to make it to the final four. And if they can contribute on faceoffs and defense, the upside is even greater, since their offensive prowess will not be tempered by the need to prevent them from being a liability in other areas.

“It’s just about as valuable as having a dominant goaltender or a sick attackman,” said Groot, whose No. 7 Terrapins visit No. 4 Georgetown today in the opener for both teams. “Just having that two-way midfielder is a big advantage for your team.”

The prototype in the game today is probably Rabil, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound senior who had 27 goals and 26 assists a year ago — including a goal and five assists in the title game.

“When I watch him on film, he’s just an excellent athlete that also has the size to go with it,” Georgetown coach Dave Urick said. “Obviously, one of the biggest changes in this game is the athletes are getting bigger, stronger and faster.”

When Rabil is paired with the 6-foot-2, 220-pound Peyser, it creates giant matchup headaches. A team with one ultra-athletic midfielder is enough of a problem for most defenses, which must provide some help and leave open shots for secondary options as a result.

But facing two creates a pick-your-poison scenario.

“You can’t even leave those guys out against your pole,” Starsia said. “To me, that’s how you define guys. The highest level can make plays while covered by the pole. The next group of guys are covered by the pole. The next group is everybody else. You have to wade through that middle group before you start assigning accolades.”

Not to mention the correlating team accomplishments, which often stem from the luxury of deploying an athlete in the midfield who commands attention regardless of where he is on the field.

“Anytime you can get one player on offense to draw two to them, it makes it easier for everybody else to play,” Cottle said. “And that’s what those kind of players can do.”

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