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February 15, 2011

Sheehan Stanwick Burch: Season's Greetings, Stories and Games to Watch

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online


Can Princeton, led by senior Lizzy Drumm (pictured), bounce back from its first losing season since 1987? It's just one of several juicy storylines in women's lacrosse this year.

The snow has melted and we can see the 8-meter lines appear on turf fields, so it must be time for the 2011 women's lacrosse season to start. Every year people ask me how I think a certain team will do. How good will Maryland be this year? Will Northwestern be back? Who will win the Big East?

I find it funny that my answer (and really any articles you read on a team's prospects for 2011) always seems to focus on what talent was lost. No one has a magic, crystal ball that can tell you how a team will perform and adjust without last season's stars. Some of the notable departures from 2010 include: Maryland's Caitlyn McFadden, the 2010 Tewaaraton winner, Northwestern showstoppers Katrina Dowd and Danielle Spencer, UNC goalie Logan Ripley, and the list goes on.

However, this does not mean that these teams won't be in the hunt for a national championship. New faces breathe renewed life into programs, last season's injuries are healed, and inexperienced players benefitted from hours of hard work and developed leadership skills. The focus on the first game of 2011 should be about what this year's team is bringing to the table, and not what was lost last year.

This is the first in a weekly column for laxmagazine.com. Each week I plan to go in depth on pressing issues and news in women's lacrosse. I hope you enjoy these articles, and feel free to let me know if there is something you want to know more about. Drop me a line at sheehanburch@gmail.com.

OFF AND RUNNING

A recap of the week's top three storylines:

1. The 2011 season has already started with exciting news for the growth of the sport. It was announced in the fall that the University of California-Berkeley women's lacrosse program was one of five sports to be cut by the athletic department. However, in a sudden change of events, the university recently announced that the Cal women's lacrosse program will be preserved. Unfortunately for the Bears, they lost their season opener to a talented Notre Dame squad, 20-6. It looks as though Cal may have an uphill battle this year, since three players transferred to other programs amidst the uncertainty, including the Bears' top recruit, Lauren Goerz, who is now at Virginia. Theresa Sherry, Cal's head coach, also released this year's recruiting class from their verbal commitments when it appeared as though the program was being eliminated. Nevertheless, the key for Cal this season will be to focus on moving forward with the players that are still in the program.

2. In its season opener against Florida, UNC narrowly escaped with an overtime win. This game was much closer than most observers would have expected. Upstart Florida is in its second year as a Division I program, and UNC was ranked No. 3 in the preseason. Keep a close eye on the Gators this year; after this game, they won't sneak up on anyone. I suspect Florida is going to give a lot of teams fits this year and will come out on top its fair share.

3. In an opening weekend shocker, Stanford knocked off a talented Notre Dame team. Last season, Notre Dame played in numerous one-goal games, a few of which were devastating losses. However, it seemed as if the Irish were on the cusp of taking the next step. Was this game a step back for the Golden Domers, or is Stanford poised to compete against the major conference powers? We'll find out by Memorial Day weekend.

GAMES TO WATCH

Right now, watching the 2011 season unfold, I have a few dates circled on my calendar for big games to watch. I love how conference play has developed over the last few years, and each year, the rivalries get more intense. Conference tournaments and the automatic bids to the NCAA tournament make each conference game critical in the quest for an NCAA bid.

The ACC and Big East have had some amazing matc ups the last few seasons and I am sure that this will continue. In the ACC, look for Duke at Maryland on Feb. 26, and Big East rivals Syracuse and Georgetown -- who faced each other three times in three weeks in 2010 (Georgetown beat Syracuse in the regular season finale and Big East championship game; Syracuse beat Georgetown in the first round of the NCAA tournament) -- meet April 16 in Washington, D.C.

Also, Northwestern and UNC go head to head on Feb. 25. Only four teams -- Maryland, Penn, UNC and Duke -- have been able to beat Northwestern in the past six years. North Carolina was able to do it twice.

Anything can happen in the Ivy League, and a late season match-up in Philadelphia between Penn and Princeton on April 26 will show whether the Tigers have improved enough from last year to get back in the hunt for an Ivy League crown, or whether the Penn reign will continue. Last year, Princeton had its first losing season since 1987 and missed the NCAA tournament. Penn, on the other hand, has made it to final four weekend three of the past four years.



Sheehan Stanwick Burch, a former four-time All-American player at Georgetown University who went on to play for the U.S. Elite team, is a college women's lacrosse analyst for CBS College Sports. Check back to laxmagazine.com each week throughout the season for columns and podcasts. Send comments or suggestions to sheehanburch@gmail.com.

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