By now, everyone knows just how successful of a season the Maryland women’s lacrosse team has had. Not only did the Terps win the Big Ten regular season title by finishing with a 16-1 season, but they leveraged that into a No. 1 seed in the Big Ten Tournament, dominating on the way to yet another championship.
With all of their accolades this season, the NCAA Tournament committee had little choice but to give the Terrapins the No. 1 seed in the nation.
But despite that placement, they aren’t immune to facing a bad matchup, or even worse, losing. Let’s take a look at the best and worst-case matchups for the Terps.
Best case: Denver Pioneers (12-6)
Denver women’s lacrosse is an odd team just because of its conference alignment. With lacrosse still considered an east-coast sport, the Pioneers find themselves in the Big East. And even though they lost to Florida in the conference tournament championship, the Pioneers received an at-large bid in the NCAA Tournament.
The name of the game for Denver is defense. Thanks to goaltender Carson Gregg and a bevy of talented defenders, the Pioneers allow just 9.89 goals per game. But Maryland has proven it can score on any and all opponents, making that stat somewhat irrelevant. And given Denver’s offensive challenges, the Pioneers shouldn’t pose much of a threat.
Worst case: High Point Panthers (17-2)
Despite playing in a conference such as the Big South, the Panthers are a high-quality team that can score in a hurry. They are expected to win in Friday’s game against Denver, which would set the stage for a second-round matchup against the Terrapins. High Point’s 16.37 goals per game leads its conference by a wide margin, and it also is tied for fifth nationally (with Maryland, as it so happens).
Senior attacker Brooke Stevens is a dominant force, posting 36 goals and 49 assists to lead the Panthers in points. But she gets a lot of help from her team, as Erica Perrotta and Abby Hormes have 74 and 64 points, respectively. High Point’s defense is also elite, allowing just eight goals per game, good for second in the country. This small school plays like anything but, and it could be a formidable opponent against the Terps.
Best case: Johns Hopkins Blue Jays (10-8)
The Blue Jays aren’t the lowest-seeded team in this part of the bracket—that honor likely goes to Fairfield of the MAAC. But for the Terps, they would love nothing more than to face off against Johns Hopkins for a third time this season. Unlike a potential matchup with the Stags, the Blue Jays have no element of surprise. Maryland has seen each and every thing that its Big Ten foe has to offer, and the results haven’t been pretty: the Terrapins have won by a combined score of 31-16. The most important part of winning is knowing your enemy, and Maryland certainly knows Johns Hopkins.
Worst case: Navy Midshipmen (16-3)
Don’t be fooled by the fact that Loyola is ranked higher in the polls and has a national seed (No. 8) in the tournament. Navy was and still is the better team from the Patriot League. It’s no wonder why this relatively new program has been so successful in recent years—Navy is coached by Maryland legend Cindy Timchal, who won eight national championships with the Terps, including seven in a row from 1995-2001.
The offense is elite, ranking third in the country with 17.26 goals per game. Sophomore Kelly Larkin is a bona fide superstar already, scoring 56 goals and adding 47 assists to lead the team in points. And she gets a ton of help from senior twins Jenna and Julia Collins, who have 100 and 83 points, respectively. And in allowing just 10 goals per game from opponents, Navy’s contests generally end in blowouts. A lowly saves per game average of 6.72 from goalie Ingrid Boyum may seem troublesome, but that’s more about the defense keeping attackers out of position than any sort of weak link.
Other possible opponents: No. 8 Loyola (MD), Fairfield
Best case: Penn State Nittany Lions (10-9)
Much like Johns Hopkins, Penn State and Maryland know each other very well. The Nittany Lions have been outscored 34-20 in those two games, with the latest being a 21-12 shellacking by Megan Whittle and Co. in the Big Ten title game. This is perhaps the bracket’s strongest quadrant, and the familiarity would go a long way.
Worst case: Stony Brook Seawolves (19-0)
Boston College very well may be the best team in this part of the bracket, but it’s hard to pick against an undefeated team. The America East is far from the premier conference in women’s lacrosse, but that’s not to say that the Seawolves didn’t face any good teams. In addition to beating the three other Big Ten teams in the tournament (Northwestern, Penn State, and Johns Hopkins), Stony Brook dominated Stanford, Denver, and Towson, all tournament teams. To make matters even worse, the Final Four is at Stony Brook, giving the Seawolves a big edge in this matchup.
Other reasonable possibilities: No. 4 Boston College, Princeton, Syracuse
Best case: Mercer Bears (9-10)
The beauty of the NCAA Tournament is that it allows any team to make the big dance as long as it wins the conference tournament. But the Bears are 85th in RPI, which is the worst in the field by far. They did make a big run in the Southern Conference Tournament, however, giving them some momentum coming into NCAA play.
Worst case: North Carolina Tar Heels (15-3)
And here it is, arguably the greatest rivalry in women’s lacrosse. North Carolina and Maryland have a storied history, and a fourth championship matchup in six years would be incredible. Not only are the Tar Heels the only team to beat Maryland this year, but they were also the only team to beat the Terps in 2016, ending their undefeated run in the final game of the season on Memorial Day weekend. That was coming off the heels of a Maryland victory in the 2015 championship game after the Tar Heels took home the title in 2013.
If that history isn’t worrisome enough, then the 2018 team should certainly do the job. North Carolina does everything well on both sides. Not only does their 15.78 goals per game rank No. 12 nationally, but their defense holds opponents to just 10.33 on average. The Tar Heels also employ a two-goalie system that throws changes at opposing offenses and keeps them from exploiting any potential holes. The Tar Heels certainly have a long way to go to get there, but they could be the team to keep Maryland from defending their national championship.
Other reasonable possibilities: No. 3 James Madison, No. 6 Florida, No. 7 Towson, Northwestern