Until four years ago the national lacrosse champion was chosen by a simple vote of the coaches. Under that system Johns Hopkins—a Baltimore institution with an enrollment of 2,000 and a medical school with an imposing reputation—had established, by its own modest admission, a lacrosse dominance “akin to that enjoyed by UCLA in basketball, Notre Dame in football and Indiana in swimming.” Hopkins did not just play lacrosse; it was lacrosse.
But in 1971 the NCAA came up with an eight-team elimination tournament to determine who was No. 1, and it was bye-bye Blue Jays. First Cornell, then Virginia, and then longtime rival Maryland won the title. Hopkins came close but never quite made it.
Prospects in Baltimore looked only so-so this year, too, as the Blue Jays dropped their opener to Virginia and later another game to Navy. Still, they qualified for the tournament, and there Washington and Lee almost bounced them out in the semifinals. The Blue Jays had to rally from 10-7 in the fourth quarter to beat the Generals 11-10. Finally, last Saturday, before 11,500 fans and one streaker in Rutgers University Stadium, the whole lacrosse picture fell back into what Hopkins considers proper perspective. With a lot of hustle and scrap, some sharp shooting and a few psychological advantages, Johns Hopkins finally brought the NCAA lacrosse championship home by thrashing the University of Maryland 17-12.
No one relished the victory more than Bob Scott, Hopkins coach for 20 years. Scott had won almost 75% of his games and six national championships in that span and was three times Coach of the Year. He is a quiet operator, preferring the old-club atmosphere of lacrosse to any sort of limelight. “A nice, dedicated, hardworking, intense guy,” said one Baltimore observer of Scott, “but he’ll never say anything controversial.” The only prize missing in Scott‘s list of achievements was a title won under the new tournament system. When he announced this spring that he would retire at the end of the season to devote full time to his duties as athletic director, DO IT FOR SCOTTIE buttons began popping up all over the Hopkins campus. On the night before his players did do it for him, Henry Ciccarone, who will take over the Blue Jays next year, tried to explain Scott‘s accomplishments. Ciccarone was an All-America midfielder at Hopkins in the early ’60s, and this season, in a nice academic touch, he has borne the title of associate lacrosse coach to distinguish him from the four assistant coaches. “Besides being the most knowledgeable lacrosse man around,” he said, “Bob’s success stems from his ability to work with people. He has tremendous feelings for his players. Everyone here is almost like his own son. I think he’s the most respected coach in the game. He’s won titles with teams he shouldn’t have won with.”
Last Saturday, Maryland was favored to repeat as champion even though it had lost to Hopkins in the final game of the season, 17-13, the Terrapins‘ only regular-season defeat in two years. From last season’s powerful team Maryland had lost seven All-Americas. But Bud Beardmore, Maryland‘s coach, insisted before the championship that “this team is just as good as last year’s. You don’t have winning seasons because you have All-Americas. Winning seasons make All-Americas.” And though they performed sluggishly on occasion, the Terps proved often enough that they still had plenty of firepower. At midseason they demolished Virginia, then ranked No. 2, 25-13, after having built up an astonishing halftime lead of 17-6. In this year’s semifinals they tied a tournament record for most goals while obliterating Cornell 19-10.
Beardmore has coached at Maryland five years, but only his last two teams have truly carried his stamp. They have been fastbreaking, aggressive and deep with midfielders who can run opponents into the ground and score like attackmen. The best of these is sophomore Frank Urso, who last year became the first freshman in 25 years to gain first team All-America honors. “If Urso continues to work,” says Beardmore, “he has the potential, I would think, to be the best lacrosse player ever, although I don’t want to insult oldtimers I never saw.” This year Urso scored 40 goals to break Beardmore‘s own 1962 Maryland midfielder record of 34.
Going into the rematch with Hopkins, Maryland seemed supremely confident. Most of the Terrapins discounted the earlier loss to the Blue Jays because, they said, the game had been meaningless, both teams having already qualified for the tournament. Urso, for one, seemed less upset by that loss than by the fact that Maryland had managed to beat Hopkins by only one goal in the tournament final the year before. “We feel we’re much better than they are,” he said. “We were so much better than a 10-9 game. People who just read the papers think we were two even teams. We don’t like to hear that. We don’t think there’s a team that’s close to us when we play our best. If we play our game like we did against Cornell, we should win by between seven and 10.”
As he had before the wild rout of Cornell, Beardmore gave his team their freedom from Saturday until Wednesday. “I think they would rather be at the beach anyhow,” he said publicly. Privately, he had some reservations. “They’ve had too much lacrosse,” he said. “I don’t want to belittle the NCAA, but the tournament goes on too long. The boys are losing $500 to $600 to play in this, because they can’t get summer jobs.” ( Urso, for example, had his last exam at the end of April and had to wait a month to play his last game of lacrosse.) But Beardmore pooh-poohed the idea of having to get his team mentally ready. “If you have to get your men up for a championship, you don’t have the right type of men,” he said. Nevertheless, he carefully placed the 1973 NCAA trophy out in the middle of the locker room in College Park, where he could be sure no one would miss it.
Over in Baltimore there was no trophy, but no shortage of motivation, either. Lacrosse takes a back seat to nothing at Hopkins. The team’s high scorer, Attackman Jack Thomas, also quarterbacks the school’s football team, and this year ranked 10th in total yardage in NCAA Division III. But his friends claim Thomas plays football mainly to stay in shape for lacrosse. At Hopkins the lacrosse players are the campus jocks. All week Coach Scott kept insisting, “This game has no special significance. I’m not all fired up to win just because it’s my last game coaching.” But Thomas saw things differently. “You can see he wants it a little bit more than all the rest,” he said. ” Mr. Scott would never admit it, but you can see just a little bit more attention on his part.” ” Mr. Scott” is the way Hopkins players refer to their coach.
The low mark of Scott‘s coaching career came in 1971, the first year of the tournament, when Hopkins finished 3-7. But that year’s freshmen won all 16 of their games. As sophomores they reached the NCAA finals only to be upset by Virginia 13-12. As juniors they reached the finals again, and again lost by one goal, this time in double overtime, 10-9 to Maryland. The 11 seniors who remained needed no encouragement to stay around campus over Memorial Day, practicing. Bill Nolan, a 155-pound midfielder who spent last fall catching Jack Thomas‘s passes, said, “We’d like to win one for a change of pace.”
Scott thought that to beat Maryland his team would “have to have a real good day in the goal, have our share of face-offs and ground balls to minimize their fast-breaking and,” he added, “a little bit of luck.” Hopkins worked hard in the luck department. Thomas put on the same light-tan summer pants he had worn to games for three years. Defense-man Mike Siegert had his knuckles taped just so. Nolan promised he would wear his practice jersey with the nickname “Gnat” on it, “even though it smells terrible,” and insisted, “I have to put on my left shoe before my right one, or something goes wrong.”
Even Mr. Scott got into the act. He couldn’t help noticing, he said, that when Hopkins lost its two games it was wearing its light-blue jerseys. Maryland, the No. 1 seed, won the toss to be the home team and wear the home-team color, which in lacrosse is white. Alas, that would put Hopkins in light blue again and, what was worse, the Terrapins would not be in the red they wore when they lost to Hopkins. What Scott forgot was that in the NCAA final the home team can choose its color. Late in the week Beardmore chose to wear red. Hopkins would wear white. There was a greater contrast, Beardmore pointed out, between red and white than between white and light blue. Well, imagine that, said Bob Scott.
There must have been some magic in those white jerseys, for as soon as they put them on, the Blue Jays began to act like national champions. True, Maryland grabbed a 2-0 lead but only because its freshman goalie, Jake Reed, was able to stop several point-blank shots by the Blue Jays. Then, midway through the first quarter the Terrapins drew two penalties. Hopkins scored twice on extra-man goals and took control of the game. By the middle of the second quarter a throttling defense, excellent clearing by freshman Goalie Kevin Mahon, and crisp passing had opened a 9-3 lead for the Blue Jays. It was 10-4 at the half, and by late in the third quarter Hopkins was up 14-6, the largest margin ever in an NCAA final.
Lacrosse games are won and lost in the 40 yards in the middle of the field, in the area between the two restraining lines. The face-offs, which start play at the beginning of each quarter and after each goal, take place right at midfield and here, as in their previous game, Hopkins’ strategy was to neutralize Maryland‘s supposedly invincible Doug Radebaugh by having its face-off man, freshman Bob Maimone, clamp the ball to the ground and wait for help from his midfielders on the wings. More important, the area between the restraining lines is the scene of most struggles for ground balls, the loose balls of lacrosse. Coming up with them is as much a matter of desire as skill. “Ground balls are the mental aspect of the game,” Beardmore had said at midweek. On Saturday he must have been having second thoughts about how much psyching his team needed. Hopkins out-hustled, outran and outscrapped the Terrapins so badly that in the second quarter the Blue Jays managed to get off 22 shots to Maryland‘s seven, though the Terrapins had been outshot in only one game all season. Furthermore, Hopkins was shooting more accurately: 27 of Hopkins’ 33 shots were on goal, compared to only nine of Maryland‘s 22.
Late in the third quarter Maryland finally made a run at the game. Two goals by Attackman Ed Mullen closed the gap to 14-8, and when Hopkins’ Franz Wittelsberger was penalized for decking Roger Tuck in the last minute of the quarter, the Terrapins seemed ready to take over. Urso quickly scored an unassisted goal, his third, in the extra-man situation and fed Dave Dempsey for another to start the last quarter. When Maryland‘s Kevin Boland scored unassisted 40 seconds later, the Jays led by only 14-11. The Terrapins had scored five times in less than five minutes. But there the threat ended. “A thing like what happened to Tuck always gives a little bit of adrenaline to your players,” said Beardmore later. “But if you’re not playing well, it only goes so far.”
Less than 90 seconds after Boland’s goal, Hopkins Midfielder Rick Kowalchuk, who had sparked the Blue Jays’ come-from-behind rally against W & L, lazily circled the Terrapins‘ goal, hoping to draw a double team which would free a teammate. When he looked over his shoulder, he discovered he wasn’t even drawing a very good single team. So he drove in and scored his third goal. Just over a minute after that he passed to Wittelsberger, who scored the fourth of his five goals, and it was all over for Maryland. Hopkins fans drowned out most of the rest of the action chanting, “We’re No. 1.” They also sang “Amen,” presumably to mock Maryland fans who sing it in victory. Then again, perhaps it was to signify that lacrosse is indeed a religion at Johns Hopkins.
Afterward, Jack Thomas, who had scored three goals that afternoon, lounged on the grass, luxuriating in the outcome of his final college game. “Everybody knew Mr. Scott wanted it pretty bad,” he said. “He’s a heckuva guy to play for. We knew we were the hope after our freshman year but we never came through, not until this last one. And that makes it a little bit sweeter.”
Moments later Bob Scott closed the door to a jubilant dressing room. For a while there was silence, then a burst of cheering. When the door opened again Scott stood in the middle of the room dripping wet from an impromptu shower. Mike Siegert, one of the seniors, was smiling. “You know what he said?” Siegert asked. “From now on we can call him Scottie.”