April 9, 2013

Sheehan: West Coast Thoughts; Entering Crunch Time

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

First-year program USC downed defending MPSF champion Oregon in Eugene last week. The MPSF tournament AQ bid is up for grabs, writes Sheehan Stanwick Burch.
© Dirk Dewachter

It's April and we are down to crunch time for many programs. Whether or not teams make it into the NCAA tournament field will depend on how they perform over the next three weeks. Here's an update on the season through that prism.

Conference on the rise

Mountain Pacific Sports Federation

I had a chance to call the Oregon-USC game last week for Pac-12 Networks at Papé Field, Oregon's stunning new soccer and lacrosse stadium. This is a first-class stadium, with impressive team meeting rooms and palatial locker rooms. However, the young stars of USC proved too much for Oregon and beat the Ducks 12-10.

Oregon, who won the conference last year and was preseason No. 2 in the MPSF, is now sitting at 0-3, with conference losses to San Diego State, USC and Cal. At this point, it looks as if Denver is the favorite to take the MPSF conference title, but I am not sure that is a given. Stanford, Cal and San Diego State are all close. This is a tough one to call, as there are still some key in-conference matchups to be played. The good news for this up-and-coming conference is that they have a coveted automatic qualifier spot in the NCAA tournament.

Hottest team

Maryland

The undefeated Terps continue to roll and impress. Maryland, in front of a record crowd on their home field, escaped with another win over North Carolina. When these two teams meet, it is almost a given it will be close — often times only minor errors being the deciding factor in the outcome. The difference in this game came down to shooting and turnovers. Maryland capitalized on its free-position opportunities, going 2-for-4 and shooting 50 percent from the field.

For its part, North Carolina only hit 1 of 5 from the 8-meter, but shot an impressive 40 percent from the field. The Tar Heels had three more turnovers than Maryland, but they were able to control the draw circle. It's very likely that we will see a rematch between Maryland and North Carolina in the ACC tournament.

Biggest disappointment

Vanderbilt

This has certainly been a tough season in Nashville. Unfortunately, Vanderbilt is 2-12 on the season, with their two wins over first-year program Kennesaw State and a Harvard team that is currently 2-7. Also, four one-goal losses that could have swung either way are tough to swallow. The bad news for Vanderbilt is that Florida and North Carolina are the next two opponents. The good news is that the ALC conference includes all six teams in its post-season tournament, where a tournament AQ is up for grabs.

Vanderbilt last made the NCAA tournament in 2010. The Commodores are shooting a respectable 47 percent, averaging 10.6 goals per game. However, they have struggled to keep up with opponents on ground balls, draw controls and limiting turnovers. Senior attacker Carly Linthicum is ranked ninth in the nation in goals per game, averaging 3.29, but the Vanderbilt defense is allowing more than 13 goals per game. All hope is not lost, but defensively this team needs to tighten things up to get one more win to end 2013.

Question marks

Loyola

Loyola started the season with high expectations from themselves and the rest of the lacrosse world. Ranked as high as No. 6 at one point, Loyola sits at 5-6 on the season, after seemingly turning things around by winning three out of the last four games. The final six games of the season are all Big East conference games, so the Greyhounds hold their fate in their own hands. Next up for Loyola: at Notre Dame, 7 p.m. ET Friday.

Notre Dame

Notre Dame is off to its best start in school history and remains undefeated with a 10-0 record. There is a lot to be celebrated there, but a weak early season schedule leads some to question the legitimacy of the Irish's success. One-goal wins against Vanderbilt and Louisville are unnerving. Notre Dame has a chance to silence their doubters with a huge weekend. They have games against Loyola and visiting Georgetown.

Unsung hero

Kerri Harrington, Northwestern, Jr. D

Harrington, the face-guarding extraordinaire, made her presence known as a freshman when she shut down Sarah Mollison in the 2011 national championship game, holding Mollison without a point for the first time in 67 games. Northwestern won that game against Maryland 8-7.

Last year, she limited the who's who of women's lacrosse (Michelle Tumolo, Laura Zimmerman, Kitty Cullen, Josie Owen and others) en route to another national championship for Northwestern.

You would think that by now teams would have caught on to her tricks. They haven't.

This year, most notably, Harrington held Tumolo, Syracuse's returning Tewaaraton finalist, without a shot or a point in a 13-12 win, and just this weekend she locked-down Casey Bocklet. The Northwestern transfer and Virginia's leading scorer with 47 points didn't take a shot and had only one assist. Harrington is a force to be reckoned with.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch provides a column for LaxMagazine.com every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch. She'll be calling the Army-Navy men's game with Evan Washburn at 2 p.m. ET Saturday on CBS Sports.


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