Serving the scholastic field hockey and lacrosse community since 1998

Archive for May 15, 2023

May 15, 2023 — The one to watch

So, in the world of NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse, the top four seeds have made it through to Thursday’s octofinal round. One of the seeded teams, Florida, fell to Notre Dame. Three other matches were one-goal games, which made for much better viewing than the first-round games two days earlier.

But if there is one team which I think could be the one to make a serious push towards the Final Four, it’s the five seed, Denver.

Head coach Liza Kelly had taken over the Pioneers’ program after Cathy Reese took the job at the University of Maryland. Over the intervening 17 seasons, Reese led Maryland to five NCAA titles. Kelly, before this season, had only seven wins in NCAA Tournament play, making the quarterfinal round only once.

Denver, who is playing your defending national champion North Carolina in the quarterfinal round, is a fun team to watch. Their defense, statistically, is one of the finest in all of the land. They also have a couple of really good attackers in Julia Dilbert and Lauren Black. It’s notable, however, that, when you look at the list of top scorers, many of these players don’t start. Ryan Dineen leads the team in assists, but has not started one game this year. Sloane Kipp has 29 goals, but hasn’t started a game this year, either.

The three Denver players who are seventh, eighth, and ninth in scoring on the team has exactly one start amongst the three of them.

This tells me that Kelly has a unique substitution pattern; it’s not like the coaching staff throws on a second platoon for extended garbage time. Instead, I think there are definite strategic substitutions for many different situations depending on team needs. I think this has made Denver an incredibly difficult team to scout for, and it allows different players to get hot.

I think the one player who might be the most fun to watch is defensive midfielder Trinity McPherson. She is a player who did not graduate from a U.S. high school; instead, she spent her junior and senior years of high school at the International School of Manila after playing for two years at Catonsville (Md.).

McPherson originally played her college ball for Johns Hopkins, graduating with a degree in psychology before choosing a grad-school year at Denver as she earns credits to her master’s degree in social work. She is a draw-control and ground-ball machine, amongst the leaders in both categories for the Pioneers.

I have a feeling the game between Denver and UNC, scheduled for 5 p.m. Thursday, could be one in which both coaches take more risks in their strategy and tactics than in the sum total of the rest of the season. And there’s so much at stake, as Denver represents the new frontier of women’s lacrosse as well as the long process of building a competitive program. Opposing UNC represents the established cadre of teams which have won NCAA championships, as well as an emphasis on offense.

It should be a fascinating contest.