Charles Nailen/The Hoya The Hoyas hope to find themselves back in the NCAA Tournament this year.

There are not many athletic teams at Georgetown that can say winning a national championship is a reasonable expectation. For the Georgetown men’s lacrosse team, however, that is the goal each and every season. After being consistently ranked in the top 10 for nearly a decade, six straight NCAA Tournament appearances and a myriad of All-American players, the Hoyas are a legitimate national title contender every year, and 2003 is no different.

“The expectation every year is to win the national championship,” senior midfielder and co-captain Trevor Walker said. “We have a lot of guys that have been playing for a while, a strong senior class. We’re looking forward to big things this year.”

Georgetown enters the season ranked No. 6 in the preseason coaches’ poll. The coaches in the East Coast Athletic Conference picked the Hoyas to win their third conference title in the last four years. Five Hoyas were named preseason All-Americans: Walker, senior long stick midfielder and co-captain Kyle Sweeney, senior defender Brant Gresham, senior attacker Mike Hammer and junior attacker Neal Goldman.

Whether 2003 is the year the Hoyas will finally win their first National Championship remains to be seen. While the majority of last year’s squad, which went 12-3 overall and finished the season ranked No. 5 in the nation, returns, Georgetown must replace its top scorer and one of the nation’s best attackmen, Steve Dusseau (COL ’02) as well as goalie Scott Schroeder (MSB ’02).

The Hoyas must also be able to move past coming so close to their goals last year and falling just short of a national title. In the 2002 NCAA Quarterfinal, Georgetown faced Princeton, the defending National Champion and the winner of six national titles in the last 11 years. The Tigers got the better of the Hoyas early, taking a 7-2 lead in the second quarter. Georgetown tried to fight back, but Princeton still held a 12-8 lead late in the third quarter before Georgetown made its run. With 44 seconds remaining, junior midfielder Walid Hajj tied the game at 13-13 and the two teams appeared to be headed to overtime. With just four seconds left in the game, Princeton junior attack Ryan Boyle scored an unassisted goal and sent the Hoyas home just short of the final four again.

“That’s the closest anyone on this team has ever been to the Final Four,” Sweeney said. “We were a little angrier to lose that than to be knocked out in the first round.”

Whatever level of success it achieves, this year’s Hoya squad will likely be anchored by Sweeney and the rest of Georgetown’s experienced defensive unit. Sweeney is often acknowledged as the nation’s best long stick midfielder. He matches up with the most potent offensive players in the nation each game. He was the ECAC’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2001 and 2002. He was Third Team All-American his sophomore year and was a First Team All-American last year. Already this season, he has been named a preseason First Team All-American as well as the ECAC’s preseason Defensive Player of the Year.

“Last year I was pretty much coaching Dusseau one-on-one by myself,” Head Coach Dave Urick said. “This year I think I’m going to take Sweeney under my wing. He’s a very special player.”

Joining Sweeney on defense are fellow seniors Gresham and Pat Collins. Gresham was a preseason Second Team All-American and Collins received Honorable Mention All-American honors. All three players are extremely battle tested and have competed against the nation’s best for the past three full seasons.

“I think we have the ability to be one of the most dominant units in the country,” Sweeney said. “Brant, Pat and I have been playing together for four years and we’re all confident. We all know what each is going to do before they even do it.”

Junior Andy Braziel and sophomore Brodie Merrill should both see significant time on the defensive line with Collins and Gresham. Each saw action last season, and Urick expects both to be able to play at the highest level in 2003.

“Andy is a guy that burst on the scene for us,” Urick said. “He’s our biggest athlete and he’s as well-conditioned as anybody we have. Then Brodie Merrill gives us that much more depth. He’s only a sophomore but before it’s over he’s going to be a real top-flight defenseman. We’re blessed the year we have a transition in goal to have a very good defense.”

The defense and the entire team will be challenged thoroughly this year as the Hoyas play the toughest schedule in the program’s history. Georgetown will play host to No. 1 Syracuse, the defending National Champion, as well as No. 7 Duke and No. 12 Loyola. They will meet No. 11 Cornell in Syracuse, N.Y., and visit ECAC Conference rival Massachusetts, ranked No. 8 in the country. Last year, the Minutemen came to Harbin Field and stunned the Hoyas with a 16-13 victory. The loss denied the Hoyas their third straight conference championship.

“It’s no doubt the toughest schedule I’ve had since I’ve been here, and that’s by design,” Urick said. “We need to play with those types of people in order to put ourselves in a position to play at the end of the year.”

Despite all the big games on the schedule, the one that the player’s are pointing to the most may be tomorrow’s showdown with No. 5 Maryland in College Park. The two local powers have not met since the Terrapins’ 14-10 victory in the first round of the 1997 NCAA Tournament. They have never met in the regular season before tomorrow, though the two teams usually scrimmage each other prior to the season.

“It’s always a battle when we play them and it’s just a scrimmage,” Sweeney said. “To see 100 guys get fired up for something that really doesn’t count, it’s a pretty exciting thing. To see us all out there when they’re keeping score for once, it should be a fun time and a really good test.”

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