by Bill Tanton
We learned a lot in 2016. We learned, as Joe Breschi said in Philadelphia, that UNC stands for University of National Champions. North Carolina's men and women both won the NCAA championships. That's been done before — by Princeton in 1994.
We know now that Virginia and Princeton are no longer dream jobs for most lacrosse coaches. Neither school was able to land its first choice last summer. Virginia took Lars Tiffany from Brown. Princeton promoted Matt Madalon from within.
We know that Denver's Bill Tierney, the most successful lacrosse coach of the modern era, is human. Denver was a preseason favorite to repeat as national champion, but didn't get to championship weekend.
Northwestern, which used to own the NCAA women's championship, is just another good team now. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's Wildcats won seven titles from 2005-2012. They haven't won one since. Carolina was an upset winner this year and earned it on the field. Still, Maryland is generally considered the strongest women's program in the country.
Maryland's men are consistently in the final four, but, losing in overtime in the title game this year, the Terps still have a sort of Curse of The Babe (Ruth) that afflicted the Boston Red Sox for nearly a century. How can Maryland be so good every year and not win the championship since 1975? How can a good coach like John Tillman stand the pain of an overtime loss in the NCAA championship game?
Lacrosse is healthy, growing and giving more pleasure to more people than ever before, but can't find the right format for the best event in the sport: NCAA championship weekend. The semifinals and final in Philadelphia this year attracted in round numbers 33,000 and 27,000, respectively. Bet you if the games were not on ESPN they'd have drawn 50,000 and 38,000. Easy. Or if the NCAA made the ticket prices more reasonable.
I used to like lacrosse most of all because it was not as impersonal as the pro sports and big-time college sports that I covered for many years in the daily newspaper business. This year I was reminded of the old days when I saw a great coach and great man — Hall of Famer Dom Starsia —exit messily from the University of Virginia after his magnificent 24-year career there. He deserved so much better.
We were reminded anew that lacrosse was built up by people like Hall of Famer Harvey Cohen, who died at age 97. To me, Harvey was Mr. Long Island lacrosse. He was around so long he remembered when Larry Quinn was best known as a Long Island high school basketball point guard. In 133 years of lacrosse, Johns Hopkins has never had a better goalie than Larry Quinn (JHU '85). He now coaches the goalies on coach Dave Pietramala's staff.
We will never forget Mr. Johns Hopkins, Hall of Fame coach Bob Scott, who died Sept. 15 at age 86. He was an exemplary leader and man. (Tanton on Lacrosse: Remembering Bob Scott)
We learned that late bloomers sometimes become better college players than the bigger and stronger kids who committed to college as eighth- or-ninth graders. Jimmy Grieves, a very good attackmen at Virginia in the 1950s, says the best argument against today's early recruiting is Loyola freshman Patrick Spencer. Spencer had a late growth spurt to 6-foot-3, 195 pounds, and didn't commit to Charley Toomey's Greyhounds until he was a junior at Boys' Latin (Md.). Now he's as good as any college attackman in the country.