• Check out the Free Press founder's new Rhode Island/New England sports blog
  • http://providencesportsscribe.blogspot.com/

Friday, June 13, 2008

On Lacrosse

Friars may be growing up too fast

When Big East commissioner Michael Tranghese, not wasting a moment of his final year of duty before retirement, announced the conference's forthcoming men's lacrosse league Wednesday, a shoulder-sack of excitation was slit and spilled all over Providence and beyond.

Proclaimed Friars' coach Chris Burdick: "In the fastest growing sport in the country, it's important to provide role models and opportunities for young athletes. The newly formed Big East lacrosse league will provide those role models and opportunities with the addition of top-notch programs."

Tough to argue. After all, the Big East does lay claim to the recently crowned Syracuse Orange -now 10-time national champions in the last 25 years- as well as Notre Dame -ranked fourth overall in the final LaxPower poll this spring- and Georgetown, #8 at season's end. Both will help to inaugurate the league in 2010, opposite PC, Rutgers, and St. John's.

And interestingly enough, even crosstown rival Brown skipper Lars Tiffany had a few words. His statement read: "The rest of college lacrosse now has to be even sharper. PC has awoken and empowered their own sleeping giant."

Wow. Kind words. But strange words at that, given the Bears are an impeccable 15-0 in their all-time series with the Friars.

Burdick, in his now decade-long tenure on the PC sidelines, has never once confronted the six rivals who are suddenly slated to become an annual obstacle. The last time a PC lax team did have any incidental contact with another Big East inhabitant was in 1995, Kevin Murray's last year here. That was a venture to St. John's, where they absorbed a 19-6 lashing.

The Friars have never recorded a tussle with the likes of Notre Dame or the almighty Orange.
But if they were to in their current state of affairs, it would likely duplicate their last NCAA tournament venture when they lost to Duke, 18-3, thirteen months ago.

Just look at the track record of any MAAC ambassador when they lock poles with the established bigwigs from New York to North Carolina. It's all the same. When the brackets are in place, they contain one proud MAAC banner-raiser raring to affix its cleats into the same grand bowl of turf as some presumptive national semifinalist.

For the former club, the pleasure is cut off right there. The Friars, three-time MAAC champs since 2004 know the feeling in the form of a 15-3 drubbing by Johns Hopkins, a 14-8 submission to Hofstra, and the aforementioned Duke scourge. Most recently, Canisius felt it when they sank before Syracuse, 20-3, in their first-round encounter. In the interim of PC's miniature dynasty, it was the 2005 Marist Red Foxes collecting their automatic bids, then snuffing them out before Johns Hopkins by a 22-6 margin.

Maybe that's what validates the Panglossian fervor in Burdick's statement. In the first nine seasons of MAAC Lacrosse, its tenants have done each other little more than honed butter-knives which one squad is bound to take up against the santokus that Syracuse & Co. brandish.

Somewhere down the line, if all goes according to plan, that will change for the Friars and anybody else who breaks off. The implicit logic behind bolting now and taking up annual regular season battles with the same established powerhouses is speeding up athletic evolution.

But it still means inevitable growing pains at the start. It might not mean baking a string of vinegary doughnuts the same way PC has failed to scrape out a single W in its nonconference gauntlet of late. If the Friars can at least kiln the kind of valiant effort they put forth in an 8-6 shortcoming with North Carolina earlier this year, they could notch some noteworthy wins with more succeeding opportunities.

But the way the Friars measure up with the Orange, the Irish, and even the Hoyas right here and now, it's the Tampa Bay Devil Rays (from before the sensitive name change) versus the AL East of 1998-2007.

So savor the Friars' final quest for a MAAC crown in 2009. It will most likely be PC's last legitimate hardware hunt for a while.

No comments: