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March 19, 2016 — PREVIEW: Maryland at Florida

At high noon today in Gainesville, Fla., the most successful women’s lacrosse program in NCAA history takes on a program which has spent seven years in trying to build itself into that image.

It’s undefeated Maryland, your defending national champions, taking on undefeated Florida in an interconference match.

It’s 11 weeks until the NCAA final, and rarely has there been such an early key matchup between Top Two teams. You might have to go back to 1990 when Harvard traveled to Temple when they were 1-2 in the national polls to find a game which could be the pivot point on which the entire season might turn.

The reason why we’re mentioning Florida in the kind of terms we are is because the Gators have recovered and repurposed themselves after a slight slippage in their learning curve. You see, Florida was working on a four- or five-year plan to become national title contenders. But the Gators got to the final four in year three. Indeed, the Gators may have been a Newton or two away from playing for a national championship, but a requested stick check negated what might have been the game-winning goal at the end of extra time.

The last three seasons, Florida has lost in the quarterfinal round of the NCAA Tournament, and has not had that devil-may-care style of play that has characterized the elite of Division I.

But this year, Florida may have the team that can challenge Maryland not only for today’s win, but for a win when it truly counts, in Chester, Pa. on Memorial Day weekend.

When Florida has the ball, look for former Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) standout Sammi Burgess, who has been lights-out this season. Nicole Graziano, the senior midfielder, will be counted on in the draw circle. They’ll be covered by Maryland’s defenders Nadine Hadnagy, Alice Mercer, and Julia Braig. The Terps’ goalie, Megan Taylor, won the job after the second game of the season and has beaten North Carolina, Hofstra, and Syracuse in consecutive matches.

When Maryland has the ball, the magic triad of Megan Whittle, Zoe Stukenberg, and Taylor Cummings will be counted on to score. But the beauty of the Maryland attack is that other players like Taylor Hensh, Caroline Wannen, and rookie Jen Giles can also find the back of the cage. Florida’s Caroline Fitzgerald, Nicole Bresnahan, and Sydney DuPre will have to match up on close defense in front of goalie Mary-Sean Wilcox.

Should be an awesome matchup between two teams who are likely to meet again in late May.

 

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