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Feb. 1, 2019 — NCAA Division I preview

AL’S FEARLESS 5IVE
Boston College
Florida
James Madison
Maryland
North Carolina

In the last three decades, there have been a number of Division I women’s lacrosse teams who have looked so strong in the preseason that you could send the Final Four game program to the printer and make the hotel reservations far ahead of time.

Such is the case for Boston College, who may be the single biggest championship favorite since the University of Maryland in 2000 or 2001, during the Jen Adams Era. The Eagles have been in the last two NCAA title games, have the current Tewaaraton Truphy winner in Sam Apuzzo, and welcome back Kenzie Kent, the fifth-year senior who set the women’s lacrosse world alight when she helped propel the Eagles to the Final Four in 2016 after finishing playing her other sport, ice hockey.

The team that will be hot on BC’s heels not only this year, but likely for some time to come, is North Carolina. That’s saying something when you’ve graduated a player the caliber of Marie McCool, one of the program’s all-time greats. Charlotte Sofield brings a great presence with her intelligence and leadership, Jamie Ortega and Ally Mastroianni were awesome as rookie players last year, and the team is bringing on No. 1 Inside Lacrosse recruit Elizabeth Hillman.

The lone question for UNC is how to fit in game action for three worthy goalkeepers. Elise Hennessy was the starter for the first half of last year, then Taylor Moreno won the job in mid-season, taking the Tar Heels through their unforgettable Final Four run. Add to that incoming freshman Kimber Hower, the No. 4-rated goalie in last year’s scholastic senior class, and you can see that head coach Jenny Levy has a full-fledged goalkeeping glut.

Your defending national champion James Madison University is back for another run at a national championship. Despite graduating senior attackers Kristen Gaudian and Elena Romsburg, the team still has leading attacker Hanna Haven, leading defender Emma Johnson, and a freshman class that includes a number of top players including Mairead Durkin, a 5-foot-10 impact midfielder and a pair of players — Kasey Knobloch and Ava Frantz — from New Jersey state champion Moorestown.

Not to be outdone, Maryland will be back for another bite of the championship apple, but, like JMU, graduated an outstanding senior class. However, the team’s underclasswomen will, I think, step up. Midfielder Kali Hartshorn, one of the best centers the program has ever had (and, given the Terps’ lineage of Kelly Amonte, Quinn Carney, Dana Dobbie, Karri Ellen Johnson, and Taylor Cummings, that’s saying something), will return for another season. I think, however, that the Terrapins’ fortunes will rely on their defense. Goalie Megan Taylor and close defender Shelby Mercer will be paramount in trying to keep opponents off the board.

Seven years ago, the University of Florida was on the doorstep of the national final before an illegal stick kept them out. This year’s team, thanks to the presence of Lindsey Ronbeck and Sydney Pirreca, could very well represent the best chance since then for the Gators to get to the final.


ELSEWHERE IN DIVISION I: Stony Brook, after being the story last year in the women’s lacrosse world, graduated its two main weapons, Kylie Ohlmiller and Courtney Murphy. But the Seawolves could make a comeback with Taryn Ohlmiller and Ally Kennedy as returnees. Watch also for this incoming freshman class, including Shonly Wallace, an attacking midfielder coming in from Canada.

Speaking of Canada, Northwestern’s dynamic talisman, Selena Lasota, returns for a fifth year of eligibility having been granted a redshirt for her injury-shortened 2017 season. And with the graduation of her former U-19 World Cup teammate Danita Stroup, younger sister Brianna will have to step to the fore. So will Taylor Pinzone, who is one of the few people ever to have scored 500 goals in a four-year scholastic lacrosse career.

Syracuse was an enigma last season. The Orange went from Final Four contender to a bubble team, which is stunning because of all the talent that the team possessed. This year, however, Gary Gait has built a team which can withstand the loss of a single key player. Indeed, you could draw the line as to when the team lost its momentum: Feb. 22, 2018, the day that Morgan Widner, the team’s draw-in, run-off (DIRO) specialist. went down with a knee injury. Gait, however, was able to attract Braelie Kempney, the younger sister of all-time midfield great Kailah Kempney.

Speaking of draws, Duke now has an embarrassment of talent in the circle now that Maddie Jenner, the freshman from Owings Mills McDonogh (Md.), has joined her sister Olivia at Durham. The question is, how will Duke do upon getting the ball? Yes, Charlotte North has returned from an outstanding freshman season. And yes, the team will likely rely on the calming influence of Gabbe Cadoux in the goal cage. I think Kerstin Kimel will have done some extra-intense coaching of the defensive backfield for the Blue Devils, and if they find the kind of magic that allowed them to make it into the Final Four, watch out.

Princeton will lead what I think will be a loaded Ivy League, one which could put in more teams into the NCAA Tournament than any conference not named the ACC or the Big Ten. Top scorers Kyla Sears, Elizabeth George, and Tess D’Orsi all return, and that alone could make the Tigers a threat to make the Final Four.

DARK HORSE: Towson gave eventual national champion James Madison a devil of a time during their regular-season matchup, and made it into the octofinal round of the NCAA Tournament, losing 21-17 to Northwestern. Natalie Sulmonte and Carly Tellekamp will return to lead the offense, and junior Kiley Keating returns in the goal crease.

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