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Jan. 26, 2016 — NCAA Division I Preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
Florida
Maryland
Northwestern

North Carolina
Syracuse

Much was made about the University of Maryland‘s mid-season form, and whether the team might be the finest of all time. That is, until the Terps ran into Ohio State in the Big Ten semifinals. Despite the defeat, the Terps were given the No. 1 seed in the Division I Tournament where they were able to outlast Syracuse in the semifinals and North Carolina in the final.

Many of the same cast will be back, including two-time Tewaaraton Trophy winner Taylor Cummings (63 goals, 37 assists) and her former Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) wingmate Megan Whittle, who had a hat trick in last year’s final and led the team with 67 goals. Attack-minded midfielder Zoe Stukenberg (38-22) will also return. A significant addition to the attack will be Kelsey Cummings, the younger sister of the Maryland talisman.

The Terrapins are going to have to get yeoman work from defenders Nadine Hadnagy and Alice Mercer because of the graduation of a number of seniors as well as goalie Alex Fitzpatrick. Indeed, the remaining varsity experience in the goal cage totals just a shade over 158 minutes; whoever gets to be the starter will experience a trial by fire.

The odd thing about Maryland’s loss in the Big Ten Tournament was the fact that Northwestern lost on the same day. The Wildcats rode freshman sensation Selena Lasota (69 goals) to the national quarterfinals before falling to Maryland. This year, the attacking corps are bolstered by the transfer of Danita Stroup, Lasota’s teammate during last summer’s U19 World Cup, from LIU-Brooklyn. I think you’re also going to see Spring Sanders or Lydia Cassada move up from the midfield to join the attack. They’re all going to have to work better off of the passing from sophomore Corinne Wessels (11-20).

In the goal cage, the Wildcats will have freshman Mallory Weise, captain of last summer’s U.S. U19 World Cup team. Emily Eichner and Lindsay Darrell will be counted on at close defense.

North Carolina has been mulling over all the things it could have done different in falling a goal short of Maryland in the NCAA final. Of course, the No. 1 thing would be to not be late in substituting personnel at a key draw three minutes from the end, an incident which necessitated a clarification in the U.S. Lacrosse rulebook on this subject.

The Heels’ top four point-scorers return: Aly Messinger (42-18), Maggie Bill (32-17), Sydney Holman (21-23), and Sammy Jo Tracy (38-5). So do goalies Kaylee Waters and Megan Ward, but the team is going to have to rebuild its defense. I’ll be interested to see if some of the team’s attacking talent is going to be repurposed to the backline; head coach Jenny Levy has two of the top 10 career goal-scorers in scholastic lacrosse history at the ready.

Another team with an embarrassment of attacking talent is Syracuse. The Orange return Kayla Treanor (60-31), Halle Majorana (55-36), and Riley Donahue (28-15), but I think it is going to be a breakout year for Taylor Poplawski (10-3), who was able to produce in spot duty last year. And I think another great story is going to be the continued improvement of Taylor Gait, head coach Gary Gait’s daughter. The younger Gait has a medical waiver for her sixth season, after enduring a half-dozen knee surgeries since 2011. She had 17 starts last year, never wearing as much as a strip of tape to support her knees.

Florida, after losing a bit of its upward momentum the last couple of years after coming within a whisker of making the 2012 NCAA final, is back with the strongest freshman recruiting class since it started playing varsity lacrosse in 2010. Sydney Pirreca and Lindsey Ronbeck, the Inside Lacrosse No. 1 and 2 prospects, are in this group of players.

The Gators return Devon Schneider (31-7), Nicole Graziano (26-14), Molly Stevens (43-9), and Sammi Burgess (25-13) on attack, but are going to have to replace the scoring, the draw controls, and the absolute havoc that the graduated Shannon Gilroy created. Sam Darcangelo, Caroline Fitzgerald, and Taylor Bresnahan will be on the defense.


ELSEWHERE IN DIVISION I: Much has been made of the job that Joe Spallina has done with Stony Brook since moving over from Adelphi, but a lot of expectations have been put on the Seawolves this year. The final poll before the NCAA Tournament had them ranked fourth in the country, and no wonder. They return their top three point-scorers in Courtney Murphy (71-8), Kylie Ohlmiller (42-44) and Dorrien Van Dyke (39-20). Goalie Kaitlyn Leahy returns, along with veteran close defenders Jessica Volpe, Maegan Meritz, and Alyssa Fleming.

Anyone remember who the defending Big Ten Tournament champions are? It’s Penn State, and it’s going to be anyone’s guess as to the degree that the Nittany Lions are going to be able to overcome the graduation losses of Maggie McCormick and Tatum Coffey. But the team returns Steph Lazo (41-9), Madizon Cyr (38-8), and Katie O’Donnell (31-8), and they’ll be growing along with a good incoming recruiting class.

The University of Virginia is a team hurt by the graduation of its top three scorers. But Julie Myers returns forward Kelly Boyd (35-6) and twin sister Brooke (1-0). Kasey Behr (26-5) and Kelly Reese (21-6) also return for the Cavaliers on the attack end. On defense, Rachel Vander Kolk was an outstanding freshman find, and she will be organizing a defense including Ella Cooper, Sarah Gillespie, and Maggie Preas.

Stanford returns Team USA trialist Lucy Dikeou (48-15) to the squad this spring, and the Cardinal hope that she jells as well with fellow seniors Alexandra Crerend (31-9) and Mackenzie Tesel (23-11) as she did a year ago.


DARK HORSE: Ohio State. The Buckeyes are the only team who got a result against the current NCAA champions a year ago, and, as such, are going to be a dangerous outfit because they know what it takes to dethrone a team of that caliber. Rainey Hodgson (30-19) is the team’s leading returning scorer, and return defensive midfielders Christine Easton and Christina Turner.

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