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Feb. 5, 2018 — NCAA Division I preview

Al’s Fearless 5ive:

Maryland
North Carolina
Northwestern
Stony Brook
Syracuse

The last six years, a player from the University of Maryland has won the Tewaaraton Trophy, emblematic of the nation’s best collegiate lacrosse player. Of course, the Terrapins have only won half of the Division I national finals contested in that interval, so there’s no magic formula that guarantees that the nation’s best player will be on the nation’s best team.

The Terrapins return senior Megan Whittle, who has scored 214 goals in her career, amongst the best who have ever played in College Park. But the strength of the team are in the younger classes. Goalie Megan Taylor is a junior, as are close defenders Julia Braig and Shelby Mercer. Kali Hartshorn, the New Jerseyan who burst into supernova-esque brilliance in the draw circle one year ago, is back as a sophomore along with Brindi Griffin, who is likely to start somewhere in the front seven this spring. Also look out for highly-touted attacker Catie May, who is from the always-excellent Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.) lacrosse program.

With the brand new free-movement rules, athleticism and fitness are likely to be greater factors than ever before. And that will make Northwestern the Terps’ greatest challenge this season. Selena Lasota, who played just four games last year, was given another year of eligibility by the NCAA, and will join with her club and U-19 national teammate Danita Stroup for one final year together in the collegiate game.

The Cats’ senior duo of Shannon and Sheila Nesselbush will be counted on for close defense in front of goalie Mallory Weisse. One freshman to watch is Taylor Pinzone, who scored 520 goals in her four years of high school, the second-highest total for a four-year career.

Another team to keep an eye on is Stony Brook. The Seawolves have been in the headwaters of the Top 10 nationally for the last three or four seasons under head coach Joe Spallina, and they have one of the nation’s best players in Kylie Ohlmiller. But what Stony Brook has that nobody else does is incentive; the Final Four is scheduled for Stony Brook this spring.

The University of North Carolina finds itself with a problem it hasn’t had in the last five or six years: inexperience in goal. The graduation of Kaylee Waters means that the team is going to have to go with redshirt Taylor Moreno, sophomore Jess Lynch, or sophomore Elise Hennessey, who has had a mere 61 minutes of varsity experience.

On attack, Eli Hazar will be the straw that stirs the Heels’ cocktail of athleticism and skill. Watch for freshmen Ally Mastroianni and Jamie Ortega to pay immediate dividends on the attack end along with veteran Marie McCool.

Syracuse is another one of those schools likely to benefit the most from the new NCAA rules of lacrosse, particularly because Gary Gait spent time with the United Women’s Lacrosse League, which pioneered the modern rules. The Orangewomen have a deep roster on the attack end, with players like Nicole Levy, Riley Donahue, Alie Jimerson, Mary Rahal, and Taylor Gait ready to go. A lot of the burden this year will fall on goalie Asa Goldstock, who needs to find more consistent form in the goal cage. Goldstock is known for making physically impossible saves, but often let easier ones get in; she was a mere 65th in save percentage last year.


ELSEWHERE IN DIVISION I: When it comes to the Final Four, you can’t leave Penn State out of the conversation. The Nittany Lions set a program record for goals scored, and return 73 percent of their goals this fall. Madison Carter (70 goals) and Katie O’Donnell (65) will lead Penn State’s effort.

In addition, look for Florida to make a comeback into the big time. Lindsey Ronbeck (53 goals) and Shayna Pirreca (50) return on attack.

An interesting story is going to play out in the Washington. D.C. suburbs. George Mason, coached by former McDonogh star Jessy Morgan, lucked into getting all-time national scholastic assist leader Corinne Wessels, who graduated from Northwestern in three years and is pursuing a master’s in education. History is against the Patriots, though: since starting varsity play in 1994, they have never made the NCAA Tournament.

Last spring, the USC Women of Troy were everyone’s sleeper pick for national honors. Goalie Gussie Johns, who has a World Games winner’s medal, returns for her senior year in the cage. But only sophomore Kerrigan Miller returns of last year’s top-five point-scorers.

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