How does a team start a title defense off right? By winning handily against a ranked opponent in its first game of the NCAA Tournament. And that’s exactly what Maryland women’s lacrosse was able to accomplish against Denver on Sunday, running away to a 15-4 victory in the second round.
The Terrapins’ reward is a meeting with former head coach Cindy Timchal, who won eight national championships in College Park before Cathy Reese took over the program. Timchal is the current head of Navy, and her new program is looking to make back-to-back Final Fours after losing to Boston College in Foxborough by just one goal last season. Had the Midshipmen been able to pull off the victory, they would have faced Maryland in the championship game.
Get to know Navy
Record: 18-3 (8-1 Patriot League)
How did they get here? It’s been quite the month for Navy, having won its last nine games to make the NCAA Quarterfinals. A Patriot League Championship win over Loyola (MD) set the tone for the team in the NCAA Tournament, beating Johns Hopkins in the first round before getting yet another win over the Greyhounds on Sunday.
Head coach Cindy Timchal seems to know nothing but winning, with a career record of 509-132 (.794). And her time at Maryland was particularly special, winning eight national championships, including a whopping seven in a row from 1995-2001. She’s faced the Terps once since leaving College Park, falling 19-6 in the first round of the 2011 NCAA Tournament.
Offensive standout: Kelly Larkin’s sophomore campaign has been superb, and it’s scary to think what she could accomplish in her next two seasons. Not only does Larkin have 61 goals, but she also has 54 assists to help her pace the team and rank third nationally in points.
Defensive standout: Navy is led by its overpowering offense, but the defense isn’t too shabby either. Among the best Midshipman defenders is junior Marie Valenti. Her 48 ground balls lead the team by a wide margin, but if that wasn’t enough, she also has the advantage in caused turnovers.
Strength: As previously stated, Navy’s strength is scoring early and often throughout the course of the game to dominate opposing defenses. In addition to Larkin’s 115 points, twins Jenna and Julia Collins have 109 and 95, respectively. That gives them a trio of lethal scorers, but the team has a number of other contributors as well to help complement the stars.
Weakness: Navy’s defense is borderline elite, allowing a paltry 10.19 goals per game. That being said, one thing that the Midshipmen struggle with is causing turnovers. The team’s 7.73 takeaways ranks eighth of 10 teams in the Patriot League and places them at No. 80 nationally.
Preview vs. Maryland
Time: Saturday, May 19, noon ET, College Park
What to watch for: Not only is this a matchup between two of the most talented teams the sport of lacrosse has to offer this year, but both programs are led by arguably the most renowned coaches in the country. Combined, Reese and Timchal have 19 national championships throughout their playing and coaching days, so to say that they have a solid grasp on the sport is a severe understatement.
Navy might be one of the few teams to have a better offense than Maryland this season, scoring nearly a full goal more per game. But the Terrapins’ defense holds nearly an equal advantage in goals per game allowed. This will likely come down to whichever team makes a late adjustment to seal the victory.
Although Timchal has built Navy into a top-tier program, the past decade has belonged to Reese’s Terrapins, making the national championship in five straight seasons and winning three of them. It’s hard to see that impressive run ending before the tournament moves to Stony Brook.
Prediction: Maryland wins, 14-12.