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Archive for February 12, 2021

Feb. 12, 2021 — NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse preview

The Fearless 5ive:


OK, gang. Let’s get this out of the way. North Carolina will win the 2021 NCAA Division I championship in women’s lacrosse. That’s it. Full stop.

Here’s how far ahead the Tar Heels’ talent level is: I think this is the single most powerful and talented Division I team since 1999, when a Maryland team led by Jen Adams, Quinn Carney, Courtney Martinez, Kristin Sommar, Allison Comito, Meredith Egan, and Tori Wellington went 21-0, winning the national title with a 10-goal result over Virginia in the final.

The big reason for the quality of this year’s UNC team is its offensive firepower. Leading scorers Jamie Ortega, Katie Hoeg, and Scottie Rose Growney all return, along with veterans Ally Mastrioanni and Marisa DiVietro as well as redshirt sophomore Elizabeth Hillman.

Add to this volatile vortex of scoring the only 1,000-point scorer in the history of U.S. scholastic lacrosse: Caitlyn Wurzburger. She is the kind of player who can make an impact through her speed, shot, and vision. Whilst on the move, the former United States U-19 star can hit a space the size of a pint-sized milk carton from 25 yards with one of her passes. Yep, she’s that good.

The problem: the rules allow only one ball on the field. The Heels’ roster is an embarrassment of riches for head coach Jenny Levy and her staff, and, I think, any result short of a national title would be a disappointment.

(Of course, there are about 100 other NCAA women’s lacrosse teams which are about to print out this blog entry and post it on a billboard on their locker room. After all, this site was dead wrong when predicting the ascendancy of Boston College to the national title in 2019 before a goaltender named Megan Taylor got in the way.)

One of the teams likely to contest for national honors is Syracuse. The Orange have been in the headwaters of national title conversations for several years, but have come up empty in seven trips to the Final Four. But for the embarrassment of riches in Chapel Hill, the Orangewomen could very well be in the conversation as a serious contender. Emily Hawryschuk returns for her final season as one of the program’s all-time greats. Helping out will be 11 out of 12 starters from last year’s team.

But what has many talking about S.U. as a contender is a defense led by goalie Asa Goldstock. Goldstock, a fifth-year player, led the nation in goals-against average, a shade over seven per game. In a lacrosse area with accurate offset sticks, a possession clock, and rules skewed against tight defense, that number is mind-boggling.

Another team looking to make good on its promise of the past is Notre Dame. The Irish were the surprise team of the shortened COVID-19 season of a year ago, going 7-0, including a 17-15 shootout win over Northwestern. Look for the team’s three leading scorers of a year ago — Andie Aldave, Madison Ahearn, and Kasey Choma — to continue running riot on attack. But if the Irish are hampered by one thing, it’s championship-level experience. The team has made only one Final Four appearance in program history, losing in monsoon conditions to Dartmouth in the 2006 semifinals.

Loyola is another team which has not made a Final Four in a while. But the Greyhounds closed the 2020 seaso with two enormous wins over Florida (17-6) and Penn (19-15) which would likely have set them up as a top-four seed heading into a conference tournament season that never happened. Loyola returns All-American attacker Livy Rosenzweig and top defender Katie Detweiler. Add to this the coaching acumen of the great Jen Adams and Dana Dobbie, some of which you saw in the crispness and occasional deception that the team showed in its offensive execution. Loyola should be a joy to watch this spring.

A definite team laying in wait, looking for mistakes, is Northwestern. The team returns former United States U-19 gold-medal winner Izzy Scane, along with prep star Erin Coykendall, the Hansen sisters (Jane and Elle) who were tremendous for Cohasset (Mass.). It also doesn’t hurt that the Wildcats have Taylor Pinzone, who scored more goals in her scholastic career than Wurzburger, and in only four years.

ELSEWHERE IN DIVISION I: Duke is a side which got little respect a year ago in preseason polls, but, over the course of the shortened 2020 season, impressed the lacrosse gods with their attack prowess. The Blue Devils scored 20 goals in a game five times. And the thing is, the scoring was spread amongst numerous players, which is going to make defending this team an absolute nightmare. Caroline DeBellis, an absolute freshman sensation a year ago, had 13 goals and 19 assists to lead the team, while Katie Cronin and Catriona Barry broke the 20-goal barrier in a short season. Maddie Jenner, the all-world draw-control specialist, had 96 a year ago and should make things difficult for any trio looking to line up against her after goals.

Michigan is getting little respect in the preseason. Despite a gallant 5-1 record last year, the Wolverines placed only third in the Big Ten preseason poll. The low poll numbers may have been a byproduct of the Michigan athletic department’s 14-day pause because of a recent COVID spike in Ann Arbor. But when you have your two leading goal-scorers (Caitlin Muir and Maggie Kane) in the side, you’re in the conversation when it comes to the Big Ten championship.

Stony Brook has been a team much marginalized over the last several years, either by the lacrosse media, the NCAA Tournament Committee, or by the established powers in women’s lacrosse. But the Seawolves have a tremendous chance to upend the entire Division I applecart. That’s because SBU has offered itself as an opening-day opponent against North Carolina. It was an opportunity that came about because James Madison, the original opponent, had to back out because of the Coronavirus. Watch for fifth-year attacker Taryn Ohlmiller to have a Tewaaraton-level season.

It’s hard to remember a time when a women’s lacrosse team from the University of Maryland has not had the absolute loftiest of aspirations. That’s because the Terps, coming off a national championship season in 2019, went 3-3 in its shortened 2020 season. This included getting 10-goalled by North Carolina, a result we never saw coming.

The offseason saw some notable departures. Kali Hartshorn, one of the most talented draw-takers the program has ever had (and that’s saying something) decided to forego her fifth year of eligibility and is now coaching at Binghamton. Meghan Doherty, one of the team’s key defenders, also decided not to play a fifth season and has started training to become an occupational therapist. Rising sophomore Emma Schettig transferred to Notre Dame.

The Terps’ recovery, I think, hinges on its attacking midfield. There are too many talented women on this roster to not develop someone with the ability of, say, Sascha Newmarch to charge down the field and put pressure on a defense in an unsettled situation.

DARK HORSE: Richmond. The Spiders were 7-0 last season, and are led by head coach Alison Kwolek, the reigning Atlantic 10 Coach of the Year. This program has been building for several years, having made the NCAA Tournament in 2018 and 2019. Leading this side will be veteran attackers Sam Geiersbach and Arden Tierney, while Lindsey Frank and Nicole Concannon will be in support. Tierney is superb on the draw, averaging more than eight draw controls per match for Richmond last season.