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Feb. 1, 2015 — NCAA Division I preview: It’s Maryland’s to lose

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE

Maryland
North Carolina

Northwestern
Syracuse
Virginia

The road to the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse championship has always featured a stop at the confluence of I-95 and I-495 about 12 miles north of Washington, D.C.

But there is a confluence of different factors when it comes to facing Maryland this season. First off, the defending champions play in a difference conference this season, having jumped the ACC to go to the Big Ten. It means a slightly different schedule for the Terrapins, but the challenge is no less great. Interestingly, the schedule retains Syracuse and North Carolina, but not Virginia — something that could be a motivational point late in the season.

The Terrapins retain their entire defensive corps in Megan Douty, Alice Mercer, and Casey Pepperman. That kind of experience alone stands the team in good stead on the rare occasions the opposition has the ball, but I think it will be highly interesting who starts in the goal cage. Graduate student Alex Fitzpatrick will get a do-over from her injury-shortened sophomore year at Lehigh while she pursues her MBA. But Emily Kift and Emma Moss will get long looks this spring since this will be Fitzpatrick’s only season in a Terps uniform.

The Maryland front seven should be more than its usual excellent self. Tewaaraton Trophy winner Taylor Cummings is just a junior, and will play her next two seasons with former scholastic running mate Megan Whittle at her side. Whittle, like Cummings, plays a different kind of lacrosse than most of her peers. They’ll join with attacking midfielders Zoe Stukenberg, Kelly McPartland and forward Brooke Griffin in an offensive unit that might be the best on campus since the days of Jen Adams, Quinn Carney, Allison Comito, Courtney Hobbs, Sonia Judd, and Meghan McNamara. Yep, they could be that good.

The immediate challenge for Maryland comes from the reformulated Big Ten women’s lacrosse conference. And the entire women’s lacrosse community has the date of March 26 circled; that’s when the Terps play Northwestern. The Wildcats are looking to avenge their Final Four exit from a season ago; and what a lot of people will be talking about on the Lakeside is a pair of first-year players who might find themselves in the starting lineup.

One is the heralded freshman Corinne Wessels, the all-time National Federation leader in assists and combined goals and assists. She turned heads in fall ball and could very well become a difference-maker once she gets more entrenched in the system. The other freshman is Selena Lasota, an attacking midfielder from Canada whose skills and instincts have impressed the coaching staff since the start of practice.

On attack, senior Kara Mupo should lead the way along with Christina Esposito. I think midfielder Jess Carroll is going to step up her game this season to become a true all-rounder. The question will be the close defense in front of goalie Bridget Bianco. The Wildcats have four players who are 5-foot-10 or taller, and could wear down other teams physically over the course of a game.

Another team who will use physicality will be Syracuse. As much as Katie Webster, Michelle Tumolo and Alyssa Murray have torn up opposing coaches’ gameplans in the past, so will Kayla Trainor and Kailah Kempney this season. The question is, who else will step up? Everyone (including your Founder) has been waiting for Taylor Poplawski and Halle Majorana to exhibit their prep form on the attack end.

If there is a team that is looking to recapturing its late-season form from last year, it’s Virginia. Seniors Casey Bocklet, Courtney Swan, Morgan Stephens, and Liza Blue form half a good front seven, but head coach Julie Myers will need to develop that other half. Plus, there is the matter of overall team defense. Yes, there is a good corps of close defenders, but the only goalie on the roster is freshman Rachel Vander Kolk.

If Virginia can’t take advantage in the new ACC, watch out for North Carolina. The Heels are stacked on the defensive end in front of goalie Megan Ward. Carolina also has great young attack talent in Carly Reed, Alex Moore, Sammy-Jo Tracy, Maggie Bill, Sydney Holman, and Aly Messinger. If that attacking talent ever comes together, watch out.

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