Kier­nan’s tenac­ity key to Mids’ suc­cess

The Washington Times Daily - - Sports - BY PA­TRICK STEVENS

AN­NAPO­LIS | Sam Jones first en­coun­tered the man he con­sid­ers the best lacrosse player he’s ever been teammates with at an event af­ter his se­nior year in high school.

It didn’t take long for the cur­rent Navy at­tack­man to reach a con­clu­sion about long stick mid­fielder Pat Kier­nan that re­mains un­changed to this day.

“It lit­er­ally took me five min­utes to re­al­ize ‘This kid is filthy,’ ” Jones said. “I re­mem­ber dodg­ing against him at [Navy’s prep school] at prac­tice and think­ing ‘This kid is just go­ing to take the ball from me when­ever he wants to.’”

But Kier­nan, who has helped the No. 19 Mid­ship­men (5-3, 3-1 Pa­triot) se­cure four straight vic­to­ries en­ter­ing Fri­day’s meet­ing with No. 7 Le­high (9-1, 2-0) at NavyMarine Corps Me­mo­rial Sta­dium, does more than sim­ply de­fend.

He’s a mem­ber of Navy’s face­off team and ranks third on the team with 26 ground­balls de­spite miss­ing two games with a bro­ken bone in his hand. Per­haps more im­pres­sively, he has six goals and two as­sists, in­clud­ing a be­hind-the-back score March 13 at Tow­son to ig­nite a sec­ond-half push to se­cure a vic­tory.

“That was a lit­tle bit of a reck­less move,” Kier­nan said.

It’s also in­dica­tive of how much he can change a game for the Mids.

Kier­nan’s eight points are the sec­ond most of any de­fense­man or long stick mid­fielder in Di­vi­sion I this sea­son (be­hind Bryant’s Ma­son Poli, who has 11), a fig­ure re­mark­able be­cause of his in­jury and tied into stick­work es­pe­cially im­pres­sive for a guy who has worked as a pole since he started high school.

It’s also lit­tle co­in­ci­dence Navy suf­fered two of its losses when Kier­nan and his al­laround skill set were side­lined.

“That’s the tan­gi­ble part,” coach Rick Sow­ell said. “It’s the guys, too. When he wasn’t there, you feel his loss. There’s a com­fort level. When he came back, even though he wasn’t 100 per­cent for Buck­nell, there was a com­fort level within the team: ‘Pat’s back.’ Men­tally, it just puts you in a dif­fer­ent place.”

The con­tri­bu­tions on face­offs and in tran­si­tion are im­por­tant, but it also helps that Kier­nan can ef­fec­tively con­tain an op­po­nent’s best mid­fielder. In Satur­day’s 1211 triumph at Col­gate, Kier­nan al­lowed mid­fielder Jeff Led­wick to score less than three min­utes in.

Led­wick didn’t man­age a point the rest of the day.

“The few times he does get beat or some­one gets the best of him or he takes a hit, it’s al­most detri­men­tal to the other team,” Jones said. “It just clicks. If he’s go­ing to take the ball from you, he’s go­ing to take the ball from you. It’s like he chooses to do so. The kid’s a freak.”

Kier­nan ac­knowl­edged he doesn’t han­dle al­low­ing a goal es­pe­cially well. Of course, that hasn’t hap­pened much this sea­son.

“You’re on your guy, you feel him shoot it, you look be­hind you and the ball’s in the back of the net,” Kier­nan said. “My im­me­di­ate re­ac­tion af­ter that is al­ways see­ing that, you get that ini­tial ‘Ugh’ and then you have to have a short mem­ory. I would have to say there’s a lot of anger. I take it very per­son­ally when some­one scores against me.”

It took some time for Kier­nan to ac­cli­mate him­self a year ago, but he fin­ished with 10 ground­balls in Navy’s last two games. The Mids al­ready have sur­passed their vic­tory to­tal from a sea­son ago, with a self-cer­tain Kier­nan serv­ing as a cru­cial in­flu­ence.

“Com­ing in as a fresh­man, you have an un­easi­ness about what you can and can­not do on the field,” Kier­nan said. “Now, I just feel the coaches have the trust in me and I feel like I have more free­dom to play how I like to play.”

LEX­ING­TON, KY. | This Blue­grass State ri­valry runs deep, and the di­vide is wide.

Just 70 miles apart, Lex­ing­ton and Louisville are worlds apart when it comes to col­lege bas­ket­ball. Come Satur­day when the Car­di­nals and Wild­cats meet at the Final Four in New Or­leans, a berth in the na­tional ti­tle game is just the be­gin­ning.

Here, the game is likened to a civil war.

Pick a side: Wild­cats or Car­di­nals. Rupp’s Runts or the Doc­tors of Dunk. Dan Is­sel or Wes Unseld. John Cali­pari or Rick Pitino.

“If the ex­cite­ment and frenzy and tur­bu­lence that’s been stirred up in Ken­tucky this week could be har­nessed, we could solve our en­ergy cri­sis,” Sen. Mitch McCon­nell of Ken­tucky said on the Se­nate floor. “Bas­ket­ball fans from Ken­tucky have been wait­ing their whole lives for this game.”

This is the grudge match to end them all.

It’s the fifth time the schools will meet in the NCAA tour­na­ment — the two sides have split four meet­ings — and it pits Louisville coach Pitino against one­time friend and now frosty foe Cali­pari. Not to men­tion Ken­tucky fresh­man phe­noms An­thony Davis and Michael Kid­dGilchrist, who have been steady in tak­ing the Wild­cats to the top, vs. a rag­tag flock of Car­di­nals who’ve won eight straight with a ro­tat­ing cast of mostly un­knowns such as Pey­ton Siva and Gorgui Dieng.

“It’s not about [Pitino] or I; it’s about these play­ers,” said Cali­pari, who’s in his sec­ond con­sec­u­tive Final Four still search­ing for the na­tional ti­tle that’s eluded him. “Hope­fully we both have our teams ready to play, and I think we will, and we’ll go at it.”

The Car­di­nals (30-9) lost this year’s matchup vs. the Wild­cats (36-2) 69-62 on Dec. 31. Even though there is much more on the line Satur­day, it will be dif­fi­cult for the game to be much more in­tense.

“There’s go­ing to be so much pres­sure on the play­ers,” for­mer Louisville for­ward Earl Clark said. “It’s go­ing to go down in his­tory. Ken­tucky is the No. 1 team, and Louisville is like the Cin­derella of the tour­na­ment.”

Ken­tucky blue dom­i­nates most of the state of more than 4.3 mil­lion bas­ket­ball-crazed fans, sur­round­ing the out­num­bered Car­di­nals fans who have for­ti­fied a strong­hold in the state’s largest city.

The fan bases are about as dif­fer­ent as they can be, and Pitino is one of the few who knows what it’s like on both sides of the aisle.

He coached Ken­tucky for eight years, bring­ing the ’Cats back to the pin­na­cle of great­ness with an NCAA ti­tle in ’96. He’s been at Louisville for the past 11 years and is head­ing to his sec­ond Final Four with the Car­di­nals.

“It’s two dif­fer­ent en­ti­ties, re­ally, it’s two ra­bid fan bases,” Pitino said.


Pat Kier­nan, a long stick mid­fielder, ranks third on Navy in ground­balls with 26 de­spite miss­ing two games with a bro­ken bone in his hand.

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