May 29, 2013

Sheehan: Final Four Thoughts, Tewaaraton Picks

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Tewaaraton Award finalist Kara Cannizzaro helped North Carolina to its first-ever national title, an accomplishment that Sheehan Stanwick Burch happy to see.
© Lee Weissman

Wow. What a season, what a weekend, and what a fantastic final four. I can't offer enough congratulations to the teams that participated in championship weekend. I had no special interest in who won. I was just hoping for good games to showcase our sport. Thank you Northwestern, North Carolina, Syracuse and Maryland. You all delivered.

Semifinal Takeaways

North Carolina 11, Northwestern 4

Northwestern had seven yellow cards to Carolina's one. Northwestern also shot 0-for-9 on free positions, while UNC converted on four of its five opportunities.

When talking with coaches, one of the first things they seem to always mention is that the key to victory often correlates to the draw control battle. While this stat is crucial, I think that when coaches look back on the 2013 season and prepare for 2014, the free position stat is one that needs special attention. Many games were won and lost on the 8-meter this year. There are a lot of fouls in women's lacrosse and the defense gets stronger each year. Therefore, it is crucial to make all shot attempts count.

The 8-meter shot is a lost art for some. It is a skill that must be practiced and perfected because it is different than any regular shot on goal, as player starts from a standstill and only has a few seconds to release the shot. Teams must practice shooting the free position from all the angles, and sometimes, the best game plan may be to pass to maintain possession.

Maryland 11, Syracuse 10

This was a hard-fought battle that went down to the final minutes. Maryland stayed composed until the end, even when it looked like Syracuse was gaining control. Maryland ended up dominating possession in the final 18 minutes of the game, holding Syracuse scoreless.

With 2:51 left in the game, Maryland took a one goal lead to make it 11-10. On the ensuing draw control, Syracuse's Alyssa Murray got a yellow card and the Orange were forced to play man-down. I was not able to see what happened on that play from the television angle, but that was a game-changing call for Syracuse. It made Maryland's job very easy to decide to maintain possession off the draw. Though 2:51 is a long time to control the ball against an aggressive Syracuse defense, it would have been tempting for the Terps to try and score, but being a man-up made their job much easier to hang on to the lead. Syracuse picked up another yellow card at the 1:16 mark, which put them two people down, and assured a Terp victory.

Syracuse coach Gary Gait was quoted after the game as saying, "I think the women's game is incredibly fun to watch for the 50-55 minutes. You play lacrosse and then keep-away for the rest. I definitely think it's time for our NCAA rules committee to hopefully step up and pull the trigger and do something about it."

I don't disagree with him, but I would be curious to know whether Gait would be making the same comment if Syracuse was up by one goal with just under three minutes to play.

Championship Thoughts

North Carolina 13, Maryland 12 (3OT)

Sheehan feels the Tewaaraton race is down to Maryland's Katie Schwarzmann and Cannizzaro.
© Lee Weissman

This win has been a long time coming to Carolina. The Tar Heels have been in the semifinals for four out of the last five years, but they had not been successful in bringing home the trophy until this weekend. It was a true team effort and well deserved against an excellent Maryland team. I think North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said it best when delivering her congratulatory speech to her team in the locker room and thanking her seniors, support staff and family.

"We dedicated this season to Kellie Thompson. And I don't know about you, but after getting stops and ground balls, there is somebody up there," Levy said.

North Carolina's 2013 season was dedicated to Kellie Thompson Shiley, a UNC lacrosse alum who tragically passed away last summer after the delivery of her twins.

On the other side, as heartbreaking as this loss is for Maryland, it is good for the sport of lacrosse, though I know that the Terps don't want to hear that. New winners are great for the growth of the game. Although North Carolina has been a powerhouse of women's lacrosse, it is their first title and I am glad to see another name added to the list of champions.

Tewaaraton Race

The five women's finalists are Maryland attacker Alex Aust, North Carolina midfielder Kara Cannizzaro, Syracuse attacker Alyssa Murray, Florida goalie Mikey Meagher and Maryland midfielder Katie Schwarzmann. The winner will be announced on Thursday evening in Washington, D.C.

Headed into the championship game, the field was in my opinion effectively narrowed to Aust, Schwarzmann and Cannizzaro. There were points in the game, where each of the candidates made a case to win the honors. Schwarzmann's caused turnover behind the Carolina goal late in the game stood out to me, as did Aust's crease roll and score. Cannizzaro's play on the offensive end was impressive and it was clear she pulled the Tar Heels to victory.

At this point, I feel the race is down to Schwarzmann and Cannizzaro. North Carolina could not have won without the play of Cannizarro throughout the weekend. She was instrumental in UNC winning the national championship. Schwarzmann, however, had a stellar season as a true two-way midfielder, and she helped her squad to a perfect regular season that saw the Terps beat UNC twice.

I don't know where the committee will place the most weight, but my gut tells me we will have a new Tewaaraton winner this year — to go along with a new national champion.

LaxMagazine.com columnist Sheehan Stanwick Burch is a CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.


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