Normally, opponents like to get into each other’s heads, talk trash, and demean their opposition.
Prior to their 2002 heavyweight bought, Mike Tyson said he wanted to eat Lennox Lewis’s children. Lewis then made Tyson eat his words and his teeth.
Before the Jets vs. Bengals regular season finally this year, Chad Ochocinco told Darrelle Revis, “try and cover me.” Revis made Ochocinco disappear.
Bitter won last years meeting putting up 5 goals on UVa's defense.
But in the match up of North Carolina’s Billy Bitter against Virginia’s Ken Clausen, the strategy for a mental edge seems to be, “kill him with kindness.”
“This year Ken Clausen is having an awesome year,” Bitter said of his foe. “He’s one of the best takeaway defensemen I’ve seen in years…. I’m sure he’ll have a great game against me, and hopefully I’ll play well.”
Clausen was equally reverent in analyzing his probable defensive assignment.
“Billy is a tremendous, tremendous player; I think he’s been giving teams fits this entire season,” Clausen said. “He’s one of the best in the game. He’s one of the best I’ve seen in a long time. Either way, no matter what you do, you’re going to have your hands full with him.”
Clausen has good grounds to compare. So far this season, he has covered such star attackmen as Cornell’s Rob Pannell (1,0 vs. UVa), Hopkins’ Steven Boyle (0,1 vs. UVa), and Maryland’s Ryan Young (1,2 vs. UVa).
“I think all those guys are great for our defense to see,” he said, “and are great lead-ins to head into this game with Billy.”
The rangy defenseman is hungry for a second chance to square off against the fleet-footed attackman. Redemption is a high priority.
“Billy kind of got the best of me last season,” Clausen recalled, “so I’m excited to get back out there in a new stadium to possibly erase those memories a little bit and start on a clean slate.”
Bitter dropped five goals on the Cavaliers last year. Four of those tallies were in the first half, when Clausen was his primary defender.
“I came out pretty hard in the first half,” Bitter said. “Clausen is a little bit more aggressive, and I guess I was able to use it to my advantage.”
Part of what makes this match up so interesting is that both players share such similar styles and approaches to how they play: always aggressive, full speed, intense, and relentless.
“He is very quick and attacks the goal very hard,” Clausen said. “Billy is extremely quick, and he’s very good at making you turn your hips and reacting when you do. With someone that quick and that fast, the further he puts you out, the more he gets you in trouble. With that being said, that has been my style this year, though I have played a little more conservative, I think it’s played into my favor.”
Bitter expects the duel to play out much like it did last year, at least stylistically.
“I don’t think he’s going to change too much up covering me,” Bitter said. “He’s got good feet. He’s awesome when he’s on the ball. When he takes the ball away from someone he’s awesome on the ground balls…He can throw a wrap check just like that and take the ball away from me, so I’ve got to be aware of that at all times and protect my stick and keep my feet moving at all times.”
While the two have built a familiarity on the field, this fall they were able to get to know each other outside the lines, adding another level of respect to this contest.
“I was able to go down and see some friends who are on the UNC team and meet him,” Clausen said. “He’s a great guy off the field. I think that’s one of the great things about lacrosse, is you have the ability to have these great rivalries on the field and maintain these great friendships off the field.”
That meeting helped dispel some early notions Bitter had about his defensive adversary.
“Going into the game last year , I was a sophomore, and he had already started for two years, so I was intimidated, even though we were the same age,” Bitter said. “Watching him on the field, he looked pretty tough and pretty scary, but off the field, he’s a nice guy…I was happy to hang out with him.”
“We had a great time together,” Clausen said, recalling the fall. But now the focus has shifted for both players as they approach this important ACC clash.
“I think this adds to this a little bit,” Clausen said, “that we were able to meet off the field and establish a friendship, and now be able to go to battle against each other up at the Meadowlands.”