After five consecutive losses in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, the Hoyas will try to make 2007 the year that they break into the Final Four for the first time since 1999.

“The whole issue of getting to that final four has always been a goal here and one that a lot of people expect us to achieve,” Head Coach Dave Urick said.

On paper, there’s plenty of reason to believe that this will be the year. Ranked No. 5 in the country in the Inside Lacrosse/Face-off Yearbook Top 25 preseason poll, Georgetown returns seven players who started at least four games last season. The Hoyas, who finished 12-3 last season, also bring the nation’s best freshman class, according to Inside Lacrosse, a likely factor in their selection to win the ECAC Lacrosse League by a vote of the conference’s coaches.

“I think over a period of time there’s an expectation of this program that’s out there, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing,” Urick said. “The expectation level is that this team is going to compete – it’s going to compete very well.”

Georgetown heads into the new season having swept the ECAC preseason individual awards. Junior attacker Brendan Cannon was picked as preseason offensive player of the year; senior defenseman Jerry Lambe was named preseason defensive player of the year and freshman defenseman Chris Nixon was chosen as the conference’s preseason rookie of the year.

Still, Urick said he hopes his players will not pay too much attention to the preseason accolades.

“We can’t get caught up in the trap of assuming too much,” Urick said. “We have to continue to do what the teams before us have done, and that’s not rely too much on talent. We tell our guys that hard work is going to beat talent if talent doesn’t work hard, and that’s something we always need to be mindful of.”

The upcoming season opener at No. 7 Maryland is already getting the Hoyas fired up.

“The biggest rival for us is, without question, aryland,” Lambe said. “As a senior, they’ve beaten us every year since I’ve been here. They knocked us out in overtime to go to the Final Four two years ago. That’s just a monkey on our back that we want to get off. We’ve had on the board in the locker room the number of days until we play aryland. Every day, we knock down one notch.”

The Hoyas’ schedule won’t get much easier after their date with the Terrapins on Feb. 24. Eight of their other 12 games are against teams ranked in the top 25, including home games against No. 3 Syracuse on March 10, No. 6 Duke on March 24 and No. 9 Navy on March 31.

“The schedule is what it is,” Urick said. “We don’t have the ability to ease our way into it – we play Maryland right off the bat. It’s going to be their third game and our first game. Ideally we’d have a game before aryland, but we don’t, so we have to deal with that.”

The Hoyas, who won the ECAC Lacrosse League five times in the last seven years, will face stiff competition for the conference title this year. No. 10 Massachusetts, picked to finish second in the league in the preseason coaches poll, advanced to the national title game last season despite finishing behind Georgetown in the ECAC standings. No. 12 Loyola and No. 17 Penn State are also in the mix for the league title.

“I think, top to bottom, it’s the best league out there that’s playing lacrosse,” Urick said.

Senior attacker Trevor Casey said that every ECAC game will be a challenge.

“Each week it’s starting from scratch because any team can win on any given weekend in our league,” Casey said.

Lambe said the Hoyas will rely more on speed than strength this season to gain an advantage over their opponents.

“I feel like this year we’re a different team than we’ve been in the past,” Lambe said. “We’re smaller, quicker, faster. In the past we’ve had a lot of bigger, slower guys who kind of muscled their way through. This year we have a lot more finesse, which we’ve never really had before, which I think is going to play a big role in terms of match-ups and things like that.”

Cannon and Casey will lead the Hoya attack. Cannon, named a preseason second team all-American by Face-Off Yearbook, led Georgetown with 46 points last season. His 32 assists were the second most in Georgetown history, and his 2.29 assist per game average ranked fourth in the country. Casey scored 18 goals and was third on the team in scoring with 23 points.

“We’re not huge on attack,” Urick said. “We’ve got, I think, quality players there and they’re skilled guys. But we’re not going to let those guys off the bus first – they’re not that big. And they take an awful lot of pounding at that end of the field.”

One question mark for Georgetown will be the effectiveness of junior attacker Matt McBride, who was sidelined in the fall because of a scope procedure on his hip.

“Matt McBride is part of the attack equation,” Urick said. “How much he’s going to able to contribute and how soon will be a concern, because beyond that we’re going to be looking at some younger players who are going to have to pick up the slack a little bit. And that’s tough to do, but we won’t hesitate to do it, that’s for sure.”

Lambe and junior goalie Miles Kass will anchor the Georgetown defense, which gave up only 8.43 goals per game last season, 12th best in the country. Along with Cannon, Lambe was named a preseason second team all-American by Face-Off Yearbook.

Although he said the Hoyas’ offense will be better this year than in the recent past, Urick said that defense will be the team’s strength.

“We’re still going to be a very strong defensive team,” Urick said. “Athletically, we’re deeper at that end of the field. We feel pretty good about a lot of guys at that end.”

“I don’t think there’s one glaring weakness on our team,” Lambe said. “I think we’ve got good depth everywhere.”

Even on a team for which racking up preseason accolades has become the norm, the players say this year just feels different.

“It’s one of those things that you can just kind of feel on our team that I don’t think we’ve had the last three years,” Casey said. “I think we’ve got a lot more energy this year coming from the younger guys and a lot of leadership coming from the juniors and seniors.”

The opening face-off against Maryland is scheduled for 1 p.m. on Feb. 24 at College Park.

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