The word already is out in college lacrosse this season: Cornell, the two time defending NCAA champion and winner of 29 straight intercollegiate games, is stronger than ever.
For the perennial powers of college lacrosse - Cornell, Maryland, John Hopkins and Navy - the sport is serious enough for training trips to warmer climates. Maryland, for instance, will return from Florida this weekend.
Cornell, from Ithaca, N.Y., has been practicing for the past week at St. Paul's School, near Baltimore. While there, the college champs played an exhibition game against the 1977 club champion, Mount Washington, Cornell won, 18-22.
They take their lacrosse seriously around Baltimore, so, when Mount Washington Coach Gene Fusting talks, the lacrosse world listens.
"They are a better team this year than last year," he said. "They are playing better team lacrosse, playing with their midfield, while last year everything was centered around that attackman . . . They are so fast, I can't see anybody beating them."
That attackman was All-America Eamon McEneaney, a scorer in the style of former Maryland All-America Frank Urso. McEneaney is gone, and so is the old overtime rule of two four-minute periods. Now an overtime game is sudden death.
Last season, when the Big Red defeated Hopkins for the championship, Cornell posted some numbers that rate with the most impressive in the history of the sport: 16.4 goals per game, a 9.4 goal-per-game scoring differential.
If the Big Red get past their first four games this year, as expected, they will go for a record-breaking 34th victory April 1 at Cornell.
Although the Long Island and Middle Atlantic areas continue to be the hotbeds of the sport, lacrosse is now played by almost 200 colleges and universities nationwide. The Middle Atlantic schools and the Ivy League attract most of the top players.
In the seven years of the NCAA tournament, four schools have had a stranglehold on the competition: Cornell, five times a semifinalist, three championships; Maryland: seven semifinals, two championships; Hopkins, five semifinals, one championship; Navy, four semifinals.
The first 1978 U.S. Intercollegiate Lacrosse Association coaches' poll says the dynasty will continue. Cornell, Hopkins and Maryland are unanimous picks to finish in that order. Navy and Virginia, the only other team to win the title, split the votes for fourth and fifth.
Maryland Coach Buddy Beardmore will only hear so much of this talk about Cornell's invincibility.
"I'm very excited about this season," he said. "We have a good ball club and we can play with anyone. Our goal is to win the national title. Anything less than the championship will be disappointing to everyone."
The Terps lost only two games last season, both to Hopkins. There were only six seniors on that club, so Maryland is expected to have depth and experience.
The players to watch are sophomore attackman Bob Boneillo, the top returning scorer with 44 points last season; All-America midfielder Bob Ott, one of the best faceoff men in the sport who won 132 of 196 faceoffs last year, and All-America defenseman Randy Ratliff, the team captain.
At Annapolis, Coach Dick Szlasa has one of his youngest teams in six seasons at the Naval Academy. Twenty-one members of the 35-man varsity team are either freshmen or sophomores. Yet, he is optimistic.
"I've never had a team that seems so eager and enthusiastic," he said. "This is the youngest team I've ever had, but they seem to play well together . . . We may be better than people think we'll be.
One of the youngsters, sophomore Brendan Schneck, is being looked upon as the Mids' top attackman after a plebe year in which he scored 22 goals and had 21 assists. Sophomore Roger Sexauer leads the top midfield unit, from which Szlasa expects more offensive help this season.
In the first two games, Sexauer scored seven goals.
Virginia has a new coach this season, Jim Adams from Penn. He replaces Glenn Thiel, who left Charlottesville to return to his alma mater, Penn. State.
The top Cavalier returnee is Kris Snider, a second-team All-America who led Division 1 players in assists and points per game last season. His 7.1 points per game was the highest Division 1 average in the past 15 years.
The only other Washington area school to play lacrosse is Georgetown. The Hoyas, 2-9 last year, do not give scholarships in the sport. Their best player is midfielder Andy Murray.