The lacrosse season is just a few weeks old but the game's Establishment, entrenched in the states of Maryland and Virginia, already has been kicked around like never before. Powerful Maryland had to go into overtime to beat upstart North Carolina. Defending national champion Johns Hopkins was extended before edging Virginia, which promptly lost to the University of Maryland, Baltimore County. Navy, reputed to be returning to its 1960's championship form, also was defeated by UMBC. Washington and Lee, which hadn't lost a regular-season game in two years, dropped three of them, to Princeton, Navy and Morgan State. Morgan State?
Indeed, of all the teams expected to contend for this year's NCAA title only Cornell, far to the north as well as far above Cayuga's waters, has been winning in championship style. Last week in Lancaster, Pa., before a Good Friday crowd of 123 people and five dogs, the Big Red ran its record to 3-0 with a 20-4 shellacking of Franklin and Marshall.
To lacrosse observers these results are proof positive of the growth of lacrosse, a subject the game's supporters discuss with a fervor generally reserved for revival meetings. There are more legitimate contenders for the NCAA title this year than ever before. Hopkins, Virginia, Maryland, Navy and possibly even Washington and Lee, a young team that could regroup under Jack Emmer, who has been named Coach of the Year for each of the past three seasons, are all candidates. So is Cornell, yet the Big Red could run into trouble in its own Ivy League backyard, where Pennsylvania, Brown and Princeton look powerful. Nor are the University Division teams safe from smaller schools. Towson State, Hobart, Washington College and UMBC can give the larger powers a battle.
The dispersal of talent is one result of the season-ending NCAA tournament that was instituted four years ago. By adding prestige to lacrosse, the championship has spurred recruiting in the sport. It also exploded one of the myths of the game—that it was only played well in the Maryland-Virginia area. Of the 18 most active players on the current Cornell squad only one hails from Maryland. Nine come from Long Island, six from upstate New York, one from Canada and one from Davenport, Iowa.
The man responsible for this conglomerate is Richie Moran, a 37-year-old Irishman with a gift for spontaneous humor. In his first six seasons as Cornell's lacrosse coach he won more than 83% of his games, five Ivy League titles and was Coach of the Year when his team took the national championship in 1971. His success is based largely on getting the most out of his athletes. "Some coaches I know want to be a father to their team," he says, "but that's not an easy thing to do. I just want to be another person. I want to treat people the way I want to be treated." Accordingly, on last week's road trip Moran, his team's biggest prankster, was the recipient of a 6 a.m. wake-up call that he didn't remember requesting. Ah, well....
Moran's teams also succeed because they are well conditioned. In addition to Fridays devoted to miles of roadwork there is a two-week session of box lacrosse, the compact indoor version of the game, which Moran feels helps sharpen stickwork and stamina.
The indoor work is also a concession to the difficulties of training outdoors in upstate New York in February. Nor are the elements Cornell's only problem. The Ivy League hamstrings its teams in outside competition by maintaining freshman sports. Although the Ivies are abandoning this policy next fall except in football and basketball, that is little solace to Moran when he hears that in Hopkins' narrow win over Virginia a Blue Jay freshman scored five goals.
The big guns in Cornell's offense, junior Mike French and sophomore Eamon McEneaney, come from vastly different lacrosse backgrounds, yet they are an almost unstoppable combination. In just three games this year they have scored 45 points between them.
French is a native of Niagara-on-the-Lake, a small town just north of the Canadian border. Before coming to Cornell he had never played field lacrosse although he had excelled at box lacrosse, which the Canadians play on their hockey rinks in the summer. French says he had trouble making the switch, but Moran says he adjusted faster than any box player he has ever seen, which seems the more accurate evaluation since French set a Cornell freshman scoring record with 67 points and was named team MVP. Last year he led the nation in scoring in the University Division with 94 points on 63 goals and 31 assists.
French's transition has been made easier by the addition of McEneaney, who has been playing lacrosse since the seventh grade on Long Island; in his junior and senior years at Sewanhaka High School he was an All-America selection. Maryland offered him a full scholarship but he chose Cornell: Moran also went to Sewanhaka and his coach there, Bill Ritch, was the same coach McEneaney had 17 years later. As a Cornell freshman McEneaney surpassed French's scoring record with 81 points. But whereas French is primarily a shooter, McEneaney is a feeder.
Moran's entire team reflects the coach's ebullient spirits but McEneaney is the closest thing to a team character. An Irishman like his coach, he has threatened to dye his lacrosse shoes green and he turned up for practice on St. Patrick's Day with a shamrock painted on his forehead. Last fall he showed up at football practice, to the surprise of many, since at 5'10", 146 pounds, he looks about as much like a gridiron hero as the Easter bunny. But he had been a high school quarterback and he eventually started as a flanker for Cornell, averaging over 17 yards on 19 receptions.
In the F&M game, he fed French for his team's first and third goals as Cornell easily pulled away. For the day McEneaney assisted French on four of his five goals and collected seven assists to increase his season's total to 24 points on eight goals and 16 assists. French added three assists to his five goals and now has 21 points. In this year's jumbled lacrosse picture McEneaney-to-French may well prove the most direct route to a national championship.