May 7, 2012

WD1 Bracket Breakdown: Appetizing First-Rounders

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.comFull Bracket (PDF)

Duke faces ACC foe Virginia in the first round of the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament.
© John Mecionis

NCAA Brackets: MD1 | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3
Analysis: MD1 | WD1 | MD2 | WD2 | MD3 | WD3

The NCAA announced the Division I women's tournament bracket on Sunday night. Florida gained the No. 1 seed for the first time in program history, Northwestern is the No. 2 seed for the third year in a row and the Atlantic Coast Conference is rolling deep with four teams in the mix. Here's who got lucky, who got shorted and who got game.

The Top Seed

Florida
The 2012 Gators are living up to the lofty expectations that the lacrosse world (and Florida athletic director Jeremy Foley) have for them. Florida is 17-2 and the two losses came by a combined three goals. The Gators won their first American Lacrosse Conference tournament with a commanding 14-7 win over defending champ Northwestern.

Florida has a reasonably easy path to the semifinals. Albany, the Gators' first round opponent, is 0-2 versus other tournament teams. If there's an upset in the first round (see below), the Gators would play unseeded Penn State, a team they beat 20-11 in the regular season. If No. 8 Towson advances to the quarterfinals, it's tempting to think that Tigers ace goalie Mary Teeters could stymie Florida, but Towson (16-3) doesn't travel well. All three of its losses were on the road, and the trip to Gainesville is a long haul.

Last Team(s) In

Penn, Penn State
The selection committee was kind to the state of Pennsylvania – both Penn and Penn State made it in by the skin of their teeth. Penn (9-7) lost the Ivy League final to Dartmouth, 6-4, and is fortunate to have the fifth-highest strength of schedule in the country. Penn State (11-6) was boosted into the tournament by the SOS that comes with being an ALC team, as well as having a few tough nonconference opponents.

First Team Out

Ohio State
Ohio State (11-6) just barely missed out on the dance. The Buckeyes had close losses to both Florida and Northwestern in the regular season, and then dropped a 5-4 game to the Gators in the ALC semifinals despite a heroic 15-save effort from freshman Tori DeScenza. If any one of those games had broken the other way, Ohio State probably would have gotten in.

Snubbed

There weren't any glaring snubs in the 2012 tournament selection, although it's a little boring to see so many familiar faces. There are no first-time participants in the field, although Albany was a newcomer just last season. Towson and Navy are both seeking their first NCAA tournament wins.

Best First-Round Game

Penn State at No. 8 Towson
These two evenly matched teams shared six opponents this season – Delaware, Hofstra, Johns Hopkins, Loyola, Maryland, and William & Mary. Against those teams, the Nittany Lions went 4-3 (they played Hopkins twice); the Tigers were 4-2. Penn State has a powerful attack (12.18 goals per game); Towson has a great defense (8.32 goals against average). Furthermore, Nittany Lions head coach Missy Doherty was Towson's head coach between 2004 and 2010. She recruited the 11 upperclassmen on the Tigers' team, and had current head coach Sonia LaMonica on her staff for two years. Penn State is 6-0 versus Towson, but they haven't met since 1983.

Doherty and LaMonica are also Maryland alums. Doherty graduated in 1997 and LaMonica in 2003. Overall, there are seven former Terp players who are leading 2012 NCAA tournament teams, plus former Maryland head coach Cindy Timchal (Navy) and her former assistant Gary Gait (Navy).

Seeded Too Low

Notre Dame
Notre Dame isn't seeded, and isn't necessarily better than any of the teams that are, but the Fighting Irish got a tough first-round draw versus Northwestern. It's an unfortunate geographic and economic reality of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament. After the first eight teams are seeded, the committee considers other factors when creating the match-ups, including travel costs. Thus, the only two Midwestern teams in the tournament will typically face each other, unless both are seeded. In its last three of its last four NCAA tournament bids, Notre Dame has played – and lost – to the Wildcats.

Syracuse
No. 4 Syracuse defeated No. 1 Florida, 12-11, on March 3 and No. 3 Maryland, 10-9, on March 10. There's an argument to be made for the Orange being higher than the Terps, although probably not the Gators.

Upset Alert

Duke
In addition to the Penn State-Towson game, look Virginia and Duke in the first round. The unseeded Cavaliers beat No. 7 Duke, 14-12, on March 24 in Durham. The Cavaliers could do it again.

Best Potential Matchup

North Carolina vs. Syracuse
Assuming they both advance to the quarterfinals, No. 5 North Carolina versus No. 4 Syracuse would be a battle royale. The two teams combine for an average 27.89 goals per game, and they both play a tremendously physical brand of lacrosse.

Three Players to Watch

Shannon Gilroy, Florida, Fr. M
Fittingly for such a young program, a freshman had a career day with seven goals on nine shots and three draw controls in the ALC final. She's only the sixth leading scorer for now, but championship teams usually have one or two players who come alive late in the season to lift them to greatness. Gilroy could be that person for the Gators.

Taylor Thornton, Northwestern, Jr., M
The 2011 NCAA Defender of the Year has had a more versatile role as a two-way threat for the Wildcats this season. She doesn't lead the stats in any one category, but contributes all over the field with goals (27), ground balls (44), draw controls (59) and caused turnovers (24). That's why she's the 2012 ALC Player of the Year.

Kerry Stoothoff, Loyola, Sr., G
Stoothoff is an unconventional goalkeeper, comfortable in and out of the goal circle and capable of dazzling stops. Loyola's veteran defense should handle Penn easily in the first round; watching Stoothoff and the rest of the Greyhounds spar with Maryland (14.90 goals per game) or UMass (16.00 goals per game) in the quarterfinals will be fun.

Don't Be Surprised If...

We have a new national champion for the first time since 2005. Florida looks tough to stop, and could become just the 11th school ever to win an NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship. The Gators' women's soccer program won the national championship in just its fourth year of existence. Will Year Three be the charm for its women's lacrosse team?


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