- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 15, 2012

Almost nothing was firmly established as the college lacrosse season meandered into the final month before the NCAA tournament.

Two things, though, were relatively constant: Virginia and Johns Hopkins. Both were talented. Both were tested. And both were unlikely to fall apart in a spotlight game.

So much for the latter assumption.

Duke eviscerated Virginia on Friday, a 13-5 walloping in line with the history of the series. Exactly 24 hours later, Maryland scored the final six goals to deal Hopkins a 9-6 loss. Both the Cavaliers and Blue Jays lost at home.

And just like that, a wild, wide-open season added another layer of befuddlement, twin jolts providing more nuanced and less flattering views of a pair of title contenders.

“We have to be careful of being too dismissive of what happened here …” Virginia coach Dom Starsia said. “We might think we’re a lot better than that, but that’s also who we’re capable of being.”

So the Cavaliers (10-2) face the need for a modest course correction. Ditto for Hopkins (9-2), which scored only one goal in the second half against the Terrapins.

It is a situation not unlike the one Maryland encountered only a couple of games earlier. The Terps dropped back-to-back outings to North Carolina and Virginia late last month, the team’s first consecutive setbacks in two years.

“I think as the year goes on, you really have to keep evolving because people start to see patterns,” Maryland coach John Tillman said. “It felt like that happened to us a few weeks ago. We got off to a good start, and people were scouting and getting to know us and taking advantage.”

Two weeks, it turns out, is enough to reinvigorate a team. Maryland (7-3) didn’t look like a final four contender when the month began. After handling Navy and Hopkins in consecutive weeks, the Terps look like a contender for a long stay in May.

The same is true of Loyola and Massachusetts, a pair of 11-0 teams with less stingy schedules than the sport’s usual elite. Realistically, Virginia and Hopkins remain capable of extended postseason runs despite their stunning stumbles.

But perceptions in this fluid season can and do change rapidly. Tillman, who is quick to acknowledge the remaining unbeatens, understands the onus on the Terps changed considerably thanks to their two-week spurt. He also knows there still is much to be settled in a season littered with misguided assumptions at the national level.

“If you look at the body of work, Virginia and Hopkins probably have the best resumes, but the margin is so thin if your best players struggle and you don’t play for 60 minutes, you leave yourself a bit vulnerable,” Tillman said.

As this weekend shows, that goes for everyone.

Elsewhere in the region:

• Army eliminated Navy from Patriot League tournament contention with a 9-6 victory. The Midshipmen (5-6), who will close their season Saturday at home against Hopkins, have lost to the Black Knights four straight times. It is Navy’s longest skid in the series’ 91-game history.

• Loyola clinched the No. 1 seed in the ECAC tournament with a 12-9 victory at Denver. The Greyhounds can match the best start in school history (12-0) with a victory at Hobart on Saturday.

• Georgetown suffered its third straight loss Sunday, squandering a four-goal halftime edge in a 9-7 setback to No. 6 Notre Dame. The Hoyas (5-6, 1-3 Big East) must win their final two games and receive help to reach next months conference tournament.

• Patrick Stevens can be reached at pstevens@washingtontimes.com.

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