Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Lacrosse: Bears sniff outright IAC title

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For the second year in a row, the ‘‘dream matchup” won’t happen in the Interstate Athletic Conference boys lacrosse championship game. One of the premier rivalries in the country, Landon and Georgetown Prep, don’t get to rematch their epic April duel, in which the Little Hoyas won, 9-8, in quadruple overtime.

But unlike last year’s shocking developments, when each lost in the IAC tournament semifinals, at least one of the two will play for the conference title.

Of the two, Landon has earned the only possibility for an outright conference title. With their 8-4 victory over St. Albans on Saturday in the IAC tournament semifinals, the Bears (17-4) clinched at least a share of the league title because of Prep’s 8-7 overtime loss to St. Stephen’s⁄St. Agnes in the other semifinal. Only the Little Hoyas (17-3) finished ahead of Landon in the regular-season standings, while the Saints (7-10) finished just fifth (out of six teams) in the conference’s regular season.

That opens the door for Landon to win its first outright title since 2004. It did win the regular-season championship in 2005, but lost to Prep in the IAC title game. The IAC uses a points system for how teams place in the regular season and the tournament. Prep can earn a share of the overall title by winning the third-place game Wednesday at 5:30 p.m. at home against St. Albans, coupled with a Landon loss in the final.

The Little Hoyas were a better team than St. Stephen’s for almost the entire year, but Landon head coach Rob Bordley knows the Saints are not the same squad his team beat 9-1 in late March. It’s certainly not the team that lost its first seven games. It’s a team on a six-game winning streak. It’s also a team building tradition, after reaching the IAC final last spring, while Prep and Landon duked it out in the third-place consolation game.

‘‘I scouted them on Saturday and they look like a completely different team,” said Bordley. ‘‘If you had told me they could beat Prep, I would have told you were crazy. Last year’s team was a senior-laden team, while this is a very young team with about two to three starting sophomores. We handled them pretty easily in first game, but I think enough of our kids saw the game where they’ll come back and say ‘Whoa, I don’ t know what happened to St. Stephen’s but we’ve got to be ready.’”

In fact, the Saints start two sophomore attackmen and two sophomores split time in goal. One of their go-to threats is just a freshman, David Solomon, is just a freshman. But they’ve come on of late, thanks in large part to do-it-all midfielder Jason Neithamer (Bucknell University commit) and long stick middie Briggs Davis.

The Bears took care of business against St. Albans thanks to their usual cast of characters. It all started with attackman Michael Grossman, a three-year starter who has been at his very best in his senior season. He has put forth big game after big game, and led the way with five points against the Bulldogs. A two-time all-league linebacker for the football team, he brings unrivaled toughness to his position. On the other side of the field, goalkeeper C.T. Fisher is one of the top netminders in the entire nation (the country’s 24th-ranked recruit according to Laxpower.com).

While greatness was expected of both Grossman and Fisher prior to the season, one of the biggest reasons Landon reached the IAC championship game was face-off specialist Nick Rhoads. The school’s all-time leading rusher on the gridiron, he has been dominant in the circle all year, and won 75 percent of his face-offs on Saturday.

‘‘I can’t tell you I even dreamt of the possibility of an outright title before [the playoffs],” said Bordley. ‘‘My boys are smart enough to realize that they’re playing a much-improved team, and that anything can happen.”