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April 28, 2021 — The road to Unitas Stadium

In the next 48 hours, the path that the field of 29 teams in the NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse tournament will be paved, as the two most prominent conferences begin play.

Today, the ACC’s eight members play four quarterfinal matches, while tomorrow, six of the Big Ten’s seven entries play three quarterfinal games while top-seeded Northwestern has a bye.

There’s one over-arching reason why you should pay attention to these two tournament: your 2021 NCAA champion is likely to come from one of these two tournaments. The top five teams in the ILWCA poll are all from the Big Ten or the ACC, and 14 out of the top 25.

So, instead of doing individual capsules on each of the 15 teams starting their journey to the Final Four, let’s give you some items to think about before the tournament begin:

THE TOP TWO: North Carolina and Northwestern, the top seeds in each tournament, are the odds-on favorites to meet each other in the national final. Both teams desire the extra in-conference play, especially given the fact that both teams have a week off after the championship final instead of having that extra game just before an NCAA first-round game. They’d both love to win, but also are keeping a wary eye on one another. I would venture that neither team will go very deep into their playbooks for fear of showing the other something that can be exploited should these two undefeated powerhouses meet.

WHITHER MARYLAND? The Terrapins are the No. 2 seed in the Big Ten tournament, but the team is 7-5 on the season and are 2-4 in their last six games. If Maryland was to lose their first-round match against Michigan, it would be highly damaging to the team’s positioning in the NCAA bracket.

THE HURT LOCKER: A number of teams have been dealing with key injuries. Syracuse has lost attacking stars Emily Hawryschuk and Megan Carney for the season, and the replacements in the attacking seven have justified head coach Gary Gait’s faith in his pool of forwards.

ACC’S ACES: The ACC has a number of tremendous and physical forwards, all of whom would not be out of place in a professional league upon graduation. Boston College’s Charlotte North, UNC’s Jamie Ortega, Syracuse’s Maeghan Tyrrell, Virginia Tech’s Paige Petty, and Duke’s Gabby Rosenzweig are all players who have highlight-reel ability and can run off multiple goals with impunity

GETTING MORE: I’ll be interested to see which of these 15 teams are able to get that little extra from their players that the coaching staffs might not expect. I mean, when North Carolina has the ball, everyone and their brother knows that the ball is likely to find its way to Katie Hoeg and Jamie Ortega. But what if someone like a Taylor Warehime or a Melissa Sconone starts finding the net?

SHOTBLOCKERS: As this site has noted over the years, goaltenders tend to play an outsized role in the outcome of playoff games. Watch especially for Boston College’s Rachel Hall, Johns Hopkins’ Kathleen Garvey, Syracuse’s Asa Goldstock, Northwestern’s Madison Doucette, North Carolina’s Taylor Moreno, Ohio State’s Jillian Rizzo, and Notre Dame’s Bridget Deehan. I believe that in at least one of these two tournaments, a goalie will be named Most Outstanding Player.

INTANGIBLES: There could be a first-year or second-year player who may, in a key moment, have the game of her life. Watch for Notre Dame’s Kasey Choma, UNC’s Caitlyn Wurzburger, Maryland’s Shaylan Ahearn, Louisville’s Kokora Nazakawa, or Northwestern’s Erin Coykendall to perhaps have a Walter Mitty moment.

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