May 23, 2013

Villanova's Small Field Tightens Up Draw Battle at Final Four

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Maryland plays on a relatively short field in College Park, but Villanova Stadium, site of the final four, just meets the minimum NCAA requirements. With restraining lines closer to the center circle this weekend, the draw matchups will be closely contested.

VILLANOVA, Pa. — The field at Villanova Stadium meets NCAA minimum size requirements for women's lacrosse, but it's very short. NCAA fields must have goals that are between 90 and 100 yards apart, and cannot be more than 120 yards from end to end. Villanova's goals 90 yards apart, but that pushes the restraining line within five yards of the center circle. It's a much cozier situation on the draw than most teams are used to, especially with the rule change that pulled players off the circle to create more room (and thereby increase safety) to contest ground balls.

"I'm really surprised by how short it is. It's going to be a battle on the draw," Maryland senior midfielder Katie Schwarzmann said.

Maryland plays on a relatively short field in College Park, whereas Syracuse is accustomed to the massive Carrier Dome. Northwestern's Lakeside Field has goals that are farther apart than 90 yards, but exact measurements were not available. North Carolina's Fetzer Field has goals that are 100 yards apart.

"It's not optimal and it's disappointing for sure to play the final four on a non-optimal field," Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy said.

The Orange played at Villanova on April 5, winning 19-7. They won the draw battle 17-10, led by senior defender Becca Block's three draw controls.

"We really communicate on the circle. Over the whole year, we've really learned to read each other's minds, throw each other little signals. We've been watching our game film and know our matchups," Syracuse sophomore attacker and draw specialist Kailah Kempney said.

The short field will make ground balls more contested, possibly giving an edge to players who can draw to self like Maryland's Taylor Cummings (85) and Northwestern's Alyssa Leonard (122). But ultimately, everyone's playing on the same surface.

"Who cares where we're playing? We have a good game plan, and just put us in a sand lot and we'll play lacrosse, so it doesn't really affect us," Wildcats midfielder Taylor Thornton said.

Practice Notes

North Carolina, which had the fourth and final practice of the day at 4:10 p.m., decided to practice earlier in the day at St. Joseph's University, because the coaching staff was worried they wouldn't beat the rain. They were right. About 15 minutes into their scheduled practice time, a deluge of rain soaked the turf field, so the Tar Heels showed up late and did an extremely short walk-through and practice when there was a break in the weather

The other three teams all made full use of their 90 minutes each.

Northwestern practiced first, under cloudy skies but in cool weather and no actual rain. The Wildcats did their traditional odds versus evens shooting drills and a lot of full-field draw practice. During the draw practices, Northwestern faceguard specialist Kerri Harrington was practicing her signature in-your-face stance on Mikaela Bozza. Bozza is listed as a midfielder (like North Carolina's Kara Cannizzaro) but she was playing in a more low-attack position (like Abbey Friend) in the drill.

Maryland's coaching staff had the team huddle up and go over the game plan for the first 20 minutes of practice before getting to a short set of drills, mainly draws and 8-meter shooting. Then the entire team and staff participated in a long-range shooting contest to keep things loose.

"Typically, that's what we do on game day, we get our game plan together and then work," Terps coach Cathy Reese said.

Syracuse was the only team to put music on the loudspeakers, pumping a few upbeat club songs into the stadium. The Orange practiced man-up/man-down situations, contested ground balls at the endline, full-field draws and clearing. Coach Gary Gait can still hit the goal from above the midfield line, using a women's stick.

Familiar Final Four

All four teams are final four regulars, with Maryland leading the way with 21 total semifinal appearances. Northwestern has appeared in nine straight final fours, North Carolina has appeared in four of the last five semifinals and Syracuse is playing in its fourth semifinal. While history doesn't mean much to nervous freshmen who are playing on college lacrosse biggest stage for the first time, there are plenty of upperclassmen to show them the ropes.

Northwestern senior attacker and team captain Amanda Macaluso is playing in her fourth final four.

"You've put in all the time throughout the year up to this point. It's just another game, and don't let anything around the situation, like the large group of fans that will be there, the noise, the hype around it, bother you. You're ready to go out and have fun," Macaluso said.

The Same, But Different

Both semifinals are rematches, but both teams are insistent that the results of their February games don't amount to much in May.

Northwestern got off to a sluggish start against North Carolina last time falling behind 7-1 in the first half in an 11-8 loss on February 22. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller was confident it wouldn't happen again.

"We really learned how to compete right from the beginning. It took some setbacks. We've had some ups and downs throughout the entire season. After our loss to Florida in the regular season, we've been able to really lock down and come out strong, come out from that first whistle and really understand the importance of that," she said.

Sophomore goalie Bridget Bianco was in her third career start in the loss to the Tar Heels, and she remembers being jumpy and reactive against North Carolina. Since then, she's worked with Wildcats volunteer assistant Scott Hiller to develop a calmer, more inwardly focused approach to the game.

"I really focused on Carolina and all their great shooters and their very well balanced attack and I didn't really focused on myself and I think that's where I went wrong," she said. "From that point on, I really focused on what I needed to do, how I needed to react to their shots rather than where they were going to put the ball. That really helped."

Since losing to Maryland 19-11 in their second game of the season, Syracuse has implemented and perfected its zone defense.

"Our base defense [in 2012] was man to man, and that's what we played last time," Orange goalie Kelsey Richardson said. "As the season's gone on, our zone D has developed. We rely on our speed and our lacrosse IQ. We're looking to give them more inside shots, which helps me a little because I'm good at those."

Bus or Plane?

Maryland and Syracuse bused to the Philadelphia area without incident. Northwestern and North Carolina had trouble booking flights together for Memorial Day weekend, and had to split their teams into two and three different flights respectively.

LaxMagazine.com will have complete coverage of championship weekend, continuing Friday with live blogs of the NCAA Division I women's semifinals, post-game reaction and more. Be sure to follow @LacrosseMag on Twitter for instant updates as well.


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