Q&A with ESPN's Matt Ward
A former All-American attackman who helped Virginia capture NCAA championships in 2003 and 2006 and won the Tewaaraton Trophy in 2006 as the sport’s top player, Matt Ward knows a thing or two about the rivalry between the Cavaliers and Johns Hopkins, which will be renewed again on Saturday. But first, Ward, an analyst for ESPN, offered his opinion on No. 1 Syracuse’s chances of going undefeated, the team that suffered the biggest hit with a loss on Saturday, and the team that may have elevated its hopes with a win on Saturday.
Question: Syracuse is 6-0, but has needed overtime in two of its last three games to remain unblemished. Do you think the Orange can be beaten?
Answer: I do. Syracuse is obviously a very skilled team, but I think this year – more than any other that I’ve seen – it’s wide open. Syracuse, in terms of skill set, has one of the best defensive ends in the country, but I don’t know if they have enough athletes to run the table and go undefeated. Certainly, they’re going to be a team that is in the hunt for a national championship, but they’re going to get tested all year. On the offensive end, the one question I have is outside of [sophomore attackman] JoJo Marasco, who’s going to run by someone and make a dodge to the goal? Most of their players are crafty, slick, off-ball players.
Q: What was the biggest surprise of the weekend?
A: To me, I thought it was Towson over [No. 4] Stony Brook. I was a believer – and still am a believer – in Stony Brook because of their faceoff guy [senior Adam Rand] and the talent they have on offense. But to me, that [9-8 score] was shocking. That was a great win by Towson. I think Towson’s a young team, and they’ve got some talented players who are starting to play a little bit better. But that’s a game that Stony Brook should win. I want to see Stony Brook bring it every single day if they want to become a national powerhouse, and I didn’t think Stony Brook brought their “A” game [Saturday]. And [No. 5] Hofstra going down [7-6] to Delaware as well. I wouldn’t have predicted that in a million years. I thought Hofstra was a team that had so many offensive weapons, while Delaware was a team that was struggling. But it was a great win for Delaware. Teams like Hofstra and Stony Brook, when you’re ranked No. 4 or 5 in the country, you need to win those games.
Q: In addition to Stony Brook and Hofstra losing, No. 11 Princeton and No. 15 Loyola were upset by No. 20 Penn and Air Force, respectively. Which of those four teams will be most haunted by Saturday’s setback?
A: I think it’s Princeton. Princeton is now 1-4, and they’re going into their Ivy League schedule. The Ivies are great this year. I don’t think there’s a bad team in the conference this year. So being 1-4, it’s going to be really hard for them to turn that around and make the NCAA tournament. It’s going to be a struggle. They have the players, but right now, it’s not looking good. Penn is an up-and-coming program. I love Coach [Mike] Murphy. He’s done a great job there. But that’s a game that Princeton needs to win. Losing to [No. 19] Villanova and UPenn in the same week can’t be a good feeling.
Q: By the same token, which team among Air Force, Delaware, Penn and Towson helped themselves the most on Saturday?
A: I think it’s Penn. When you look at their body of work and what they’ve done, beating Duke is a game where we’re going to look at it at the end of season and realize that it was a better win than we initially thought it was. I think Duke’s going to turn it around and finish fairly strong at the end of the season. So I think that’s going to help Penn, and Penn beating Princeton and getting an Ivy win is a big step for them. They’re going to be in the conversation for a spot in the NCAA tournament.
Q: Was there a team or individual that impressed you the most?
A: I thought [sophomore Pierce] Bassett in the cage for Johns Hopkins was great. I love the way he plays. He’s big, but he’s very quick in his fundamentals, and any time you keep Syracuse to five goals, that is impressive. And I think he’s a player that’s really helped that defense and the younger players be encouraged with what they’re doing. He’s given them a lot of confidence, and confidence is key.
Q: No. 14 Johns Hopkins was within a disputed no-goal call of tagging the Orange with its first loss of the season, but lost 5-4 in double overtime on Saturday night. What do you make of the Blue Jays, who looked discombobulated and lifeless in that 8-3 loss to No. 11 Princeton on March 5?
A: I think when you look at Johns Hopkins, you still see a very young team. It feels like I’ve been saying that for a couple years now, but they are. They’re very young with a lot of talent. So they’re going to play a Syracuse very, very well, and also have some growing pains where they play against a team like Princeton, which can take you out of your comfort zone, and they struggle. That’s kind of the ups and downs of a young team. But when they play well, they can compete with anybody because they have the athletes, their defense is good, and their goalie is great. When you have that, you can be in a lot of games, and I think Johns Hopkins is going to continue to grow on the offensive end as a unit. They’re going to be a solid team, and they’re going to be right there vying for a Final Four spot.
Q: Senior attackman Kyle Wharton appeared to score the game-winning goal for Johns Hopkins with four seconds left in the first extra session, but the goal was waived off after an official ruled that Wharton was in the crease. Agree or disagree?
A: In my opinion, based on the way the refs have been calling that all year, it’s a goal. It should have been a push in the back. The thing is, if Syracuse hadn’t pushed him, he was going into the crease regardless. But once you put your hands on his back and extend your arms like that, the ref has to call that a goal because that’s what they’ve been doing all year. Every time someone ends up in the crease, it seems that it’s a push. So I don’t know why they would change that in the last moment of the game.