Henry Ciccarone, for one, is happy his Johns Hopkins lacrosse team is ranked second in the country after winning the national championship three of the last four years. Now, he says, he can go into today's game against No. 1-ranked North Carolina a little more relaxed.
"It's a nice change of pace to be the hunter instead of the hunted," said Ciccarone, whose team's 22-game winning streak was ended in last year's NCAA title game by North Carolina. It was the first time Carolina, which now has won 16 in a row, had defeated Hopkins.
The defending champion Tar Heels (4-0) have a 16-game winning streak going into today's 2 p.m. game at Homewood Field in Baltimore. Hopkins (5-0) hasn't lost a regular-season game since 1980.
In other games, fifth-ranked Maryland meets fourth-ranked Virginia at 2 p.m. in College Park in the last Atlantic Coast Conference game for both teams. Seventh-ranked Navy was supposed to play undefeated and third-ranked Army at West Point this afternoon, but the game was snowed out. It has been rescheduled for Wednesday afternoon.
For three years, no team was in Hopkins' class. Few teams could even save themselves from embarrassment, much less win, when they played the Blue Jays. But all that changed last May when North Carolina culminated three years of nipping at the heels of lacrosse's elite by upsetting Hopkins, 14-13. The loss was only the second for Hopkins in 49 games.
But looking back on it, Ciccarone says he wasn't really surprised. For three years, while Hopkins was winning, North Carolina Coach Willie Scroggs was building. Now, of the players on the Tar Heels' roster this year, 21 are from Maryland and 12 are from New York. None is from North Carolina.
North Carolina easily defeated Maryland, 16-11, last week. The Tar Heels have nine starters, including seven all-America selections, among the 31 lettermen back from last year's team.
Michael Burnett, Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year last season, leads North Carolina with 12 goals and eight assists. And the high-scoring Tar Heels also have been stingy on defense. Against Maryland, all-America goalie Tom Sears stopped 18 shots.
As if that weren't enough to discourage Hopkins, which lost most of its team to graduation last year, the Blue Jays have several players hobbling from injuries.
Jeff Cook, Hopkins' leading scorer with 14 goals, has been bothered by a hip injury all season, but still hopes to play. However, Gary Benninghoff (13 goals) is doubtful after pulling a groin muscle against Virginia last week. Team Captain Dave Black, a defenseman, also is unlikely because of a shoulder injury. And second-line midfielder Jeff Kendall, who has a pulled hamstring, expects to play only part of the game.