At long last we've reached the week that college lacrosse fans both love and dread. The quality of play should be among the best they've seen all season but when the sun has set on Memorial Day, college lacrosse fans face a nearly nine month void they will need to fill. Some will celebrate championships others will face long rides home after watching their favorite team fall a win or two short of capturing the ultimate prize.
As there are in men's lacrosse, four women's lacrosse teams remain in pursuit of being crowned NCAA National Champions. Those four teams are Maryland, Northwestern, Syracuse, and Virginia. We'll take a look at each squad in a moment. First, some housekeeping:
When: Friday, May 23, 2014 - First game faceoff at 5:00 pm
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University in Towson, MD
TV Coverage: ESPN3
When: Sunday, May 25, 2014 Faceoff at 8:30 pm
Where: Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University in Towson, MD
TV Coverage: ESPNU / ESPN3
The Terps, who are making their sixth consecutive appearance in the Final Four, entered the Tournament as the top overall seed for the second year in a row. Maryland has lost only twice in their last forty-four games spanning the 2013 and 2014 seasons. Both those losses came to the North Carolina Tar Heels including the triple overtime 13-12 loss in the 2013 title game. Since the 17-15 loss in Chapel Hill on April fifth, the Terps have won eight straight in a streak that included nabbing their sixth straight ACC Tournament Championship.
The Terrapins' road to Towson
Next stop, Baltimore
Next stop, Baltimore
In their first game of the tournament, Maryland defeated the Ivy League regular season champion Penn by a 13-5 margin. Duke did little to challenge the Terps falling 15-8 as Maryland moved on to the Final Four. The Terrapins are looking to pick up the program's twelfth National Championship and first since 2010.
Scoring at a clip of 14.82 goals per game, the Terrapins are the highest scoring team in the Final Four. Only once this season have they failed to score at least ten goals. But the Terps are not merely an offensive juggernaut. As the ninth best defensive team in the nation, their average of 7.86 goals against is also the best among the four remaining squads. With an average margin of victory of nearly seven goals per game, the Terps haven't been challenged often but they are 3-1 in games decided by three or fewer goals.
Maryland star watch
Individually, Maryland features two Tewaaraton Award finalists - all-everything midfielder Taylor Cummings and defender Megan Douty. But the Terps are far from being a two woman show. In addition to Cummings (#21) who leads Maryland with 59 goals, both Kelly McPatland (#6) and Brooke Griffin (#11) have over fifty goals. Throw in Beth Glaros (#20) with 47 and Zoe Stukenberg (#15) who has 33 as a freshman and the Terrapins are a tough squad to defend.
Assisting Douty in the defensive half, are (#8) Alice Mercer who is second to Cummings in caused turnovers and goalie Abbey Clipp.
For those who thought Maryland's string of six straight Final Four appearances was impressive, hold onto your hats. The Northwestern Wildcats are returning to championship weekend for the tenth consecutive time. Coached by Maryland alumna Kelly Amonte Hiller, the Wildcats have collected seven national titles since 2005. Northwestern enters the semifinals with a 14-6 record and carry the number five overall seed.
The Wildcats' road to Towson
Northwestern started their journey with an 11-8 win over Louisville. They followed that with a 12-11 overtime win over American Lacrosse Conference foe Florida in which they rallied from a three goal deficit with twenty minutes to play. In 2013, the Wildcats dropped their semifinal game 11-4 to the eventual champion North Carolina Tar Heels. They will be looking to bring home the trophy for the eighth time in program history.
For those who have followed women's lacrosse for any length of time, it will come as no surprise to learn that, at just over 11 goals per game, the Wildcats are the lowest scoring squad still standing. They play a possession game and average fewer than 24 shots per contest while holding their opponents to 20 shots. Defensively, they concede just 8.4 goals per game.
Northwestern star watch
Senior Alyssa Leonard (#2) is, in some ways, the Wildcats' answer to Maryland's Taylor Cummings. Leonard leads Northwestern with 40 goals and is tied for the team lead with 11 assists. Leonard is even more critical to the Wildcats' success in the draw circle where her total of 160 nearly matched the 167 that Northwestern's opponents collectively amassed for the season.
Amonte Hiller seems to have experimented with her attack and attacking midfield early on but the emergence of two players Kara Mupo (#8) and Kat DeRonda (#4) as complementary scorers has settled her lineup. Mupo is second with 38 goals and 47 points and DeRonda is third with 35 goals and 45 points.
Syracuse head coach Gary Gait also has ties to Maryland. Before returning to his alma mater to take the head coaching reins in 2007, Gait was an assistant to Cindy Timchal during Maryland's run of seven consecutive NCAA titles from 1995 to 2001. The Orange are making their third consecutive Final Four appearance and fourth in Gait's six years at the helm. The number 2 overall seed, Syracuse comes to championship weekend with a 20-2 record. Both losses came to Maryland. A National Championship would be the first in program history.
The Orange's road to Towson
Nearly as explosive offensively as the Terps, Syracuse averages 14.4 goals per game. They rang up 13 scores in their NCAA opener against Stony Brook becoming only the second team this season to reach double digits against the Seawolves - a team that entered the NCAA Tournament giving up just over five per game. The Orange then survived a late rally to eliminate ACC foe Boston College 11-9 in their quarterfinal match-up.
Defensively, the Orange are susceptible to giving up scores. Like Maryland and Northwestern, Syracuse gives up under nine goals per game. However, unlike those squads, who have yielded ten or more goals in only five and seven games respectively, the Orange have seen their opponents reach double digits nine times in twenty-two games.
Syracuse star watch
Just as the Terrapins have two of the five Tewaaraton Award finalists, the Orange match them with a pair of their own. As is the case with Maryland, one of those players is a sophomore and that sophomore would be attacker Kayla Traenor (#21). Traenor was named the ACC Offensive Player of the Year and with good reason: She has a conference leading 73 goals and 107 points.
There isn't much dropoff to the Orange's number two option this season, senior attacker Alyssa Murray (#1). Throughout her career, Murray has been a consistent threat for Syracuse. She recently moved into second place on the Orange's all-time points list and is making her second consecutive appearance as a Tewaaraton finalist. With 56 goals and 41 assists, her 97 points are second in the conference though she is fourth in points per game.
Although they are a member of the ridiculously tough ACC and were the sixth overall seed in the tournament, Virginia would have to be considered the party crashers for championship weekend. Midway through the season, the Cavaliers' faithful likely doubted that Virginia would make the tournament field let alone be playing in the Final Four. Virginia started the season by losing six of their first ten games. In the ten games since, they've lost only twice with both of those losses coming to Maryland. Friday will mark the first Final Four appearance for the Cavaliers since 2007. Virginia and head coach Julie Myers lay claim to one national title.
The Cavaliers' road to Towson
Despite falling to Maryland in their ACC semifinal Virginia's late season surge earned them the number six seed and the first round bye that comes with a top six seed. The Cavaliers have managed two close wins in the NCAA Tournament. The first was a 13-11 win over Princeton in Charlottesville. The Cavaliers then traveled to Chapel Hill where they edged the defending champion North Carolina Tar Heels by a 10-9 final.
While the Cavs' offense has remained consistent scoring just six goals over the final ten games than they had in the first ten, it's the defensive end where Virginia has shown the most improvement. Here, Virginia has given up 32 fewer goals than they did in the season's first ten contests. The defensive resurgence was fueled in part by a decision by Myers to switch Morgan Stephens from midfield to defense and Daniela Eppler from defense to midfield.
Virginia star watch
The Cavaliers have two dynamic goal scorers beginning with senior attacker Liza Blue (#9). Blue has found the back of the net a team leading 55 times. She's also second on the squad with 56 draw controls. Leading the team in that statistic with 92 is Virginia's second leading scorer, Courtney Swan (#7). Swan is also tied with Casey Bocklet (#20), one of UVA's two other thirty plus goal scorers, for the team lead with 26 assists.
One other reason for the Cavs defensive improvement has been the play of goalie Liz Colgan. Over the last eight games, the senior has averaged more than 10 saves per game including putting up 16 in Virginia's 13-8 win at Notre Dame.
Let's get ready to rumble!
The fun starts Friday at 5:00 pm with Virginia facing Syracuse. Half an hour after that game ends, future B1G rivals Maryland and Northwestern will take the field. With no buffer between them, the Terps and Wildcats will be meeting on championship weekend for the fourth time in the last five years and Maryland will be looking to even the score as Northwestern holds the 2-1 edge in those contests.