April 17, 2009

Atlantic-10 Keeps Us Guessing 'Til the End

by Justin Feil | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Taylor Donohue and George Washington are a safe bet for one of the remaining bids to the Atlantic-10  tournament -- but in this conference, nothing's a certainty.
© GW Athletics

Massachusetts won its Atlantic 10 Tournament semifinal over Richmond last season after forcing overtime with one second left in regulation.

It turns out it was just a prelude to 2009, which has seen more than its fair share of close calls to impact the tournament picture.

Duquesne kept their tournament hopes on life support with a 16-15 overtime win over St. Bonaventure on Monday. No team had more than a two-goal lead. The Dukes' Sarah Cate scored with 22 seconds left to force overtime before they improved to 2-3 in the conference.

It was the second heartbreaking defeat for the Bonnies, who were eliminated from tournament contention after falling to 1-4 in conference. They also lost by one goal when George Washington scored the game-winner in the final four minutes in the first A-10 weekend.

Now the A-10 heads into its final regular-season weekend with two spots taken and two still undecided. Massachusetts clinched a spot with its first 5-0 start in history. They can sew up the top seed with either a win over Duquesne on Friday or at St. Bonaventure on Sunday.

"Each team we see in the A-10 does something unique," said UMass head coach Alexis Venechanos, whose team is 8-6 overall. "I think our out-of-conference schedule helped prepare us for anything we see Friday or Sunday. I think our girls have been able to adapt to the A-10 styles of play, and that gives them confidence."

The Minutewomen haven't been without drama in their perfect march to the top of the league. Richmond's Allison Furstenburg almost got revenge for last season's semifinal loss, but her shot sailed wide with one second to go in UMass's 13-12 win.

St. Joseph's wrapped up its first tournament berth since 2001. The Hawks are 4-1 after winning three straight conference games, and have tied the program record with eight wins overall.

"It's good to see us peaking at the right time," said Hawks head coach Denise Roessler. "I think last year maybe we peaked too early. We're young, but these guys are passionate about getting to the A-10 tournament."

"Our kids are peaking at the right time," she added. "It's been a fun ride, and it's not over yet."

St. Joseph's only close league game was its 10-8 loss to UMass. That game was tied at halftime. The Hawks expect stiff competition for the tournament's No. 2 seed. They host GW on Friday and play at Richmond on Sunday.

The Colonials and Spiders are the front-runners for the final two tournament slots. Both need just one more win to clinch berths. Either could be anything from the second to fourth seed.

Richmond sits third in the head-to-head tiebreaker after dismantling GW, 21-12, last Friday. It was their first resounding win of the A10 season. They edged St. Bonaventure, 17-15, in their opener, then needed a goal with 22 seconds left to overcome a four-goal deficit and force overtime in a 14-13 win over Duquesne.

After a non-conference game at American on Wednesday, the pre-season favorite Spiders play at La Salle on Friday before taking on the Hawks on Sunday. GW faces the Hawks first before taking on La Salle.

The Explorers (1-4 in the A-10) can play a spoiler role and allow Duquesne to sneak into the tournament picture. The Dukes, however, must sweep UMass on Friday and Temple on Sunday, then get help from St. Joseph's and La Salle. Richmond, GW and St. Joseph's all own head-to-head tiebreakers over the Dukes, but no one is relaxing in their pursuit of a tournament berth.

"We missed out by a game last year," said GW head coach Tara Hannaford. "It would be great for this group. They really worked hard.

"Our senior class went to the A10 championship as sophomores. Last year was definitely a disappointing year. It would be nice for them. They definitely look at last year. They're trying to avoid the season we had last year. We're right there. Our win-loss record doesn't look much different, but we're a different team."

GW can prove it in the final regular-season weekend, but it better be ready. It's the A-10, and chances are the games will be close.


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