April 16, 2014

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WD1 Notebook: Breakdown of Conference Races

by Laurel Pfahler | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Stony Brook took a big step in showing the America East that it meant business this week with a four-goal win over Albany, its closest competitor in the league. (Greg Shemitz)

For some teams, a conference championship is an important step on the way to what they hope will be a big postseason. For others, it's the only way into the NCAA tournament and missing out on an AQ spells the end of the year. But with just three Saturdays between now and the NCAA tournament selection, how are the races shaping up?

Visit Lacrosse Magazine's Women's DI Conference Standings page for up-to-date records and standings throughout the race to the NCAA tournament.

AMERICAN LACROSSE CONFERENCE

The final year of the American Lacrosse Conference is shaping up to be an interesting one.

The regular-season champion could be crowned Saturday if Florida (14-2 overall, 5-0 ALC) beats Northwestern, but Ohio State (11-4, 4-1) is hoping to still have a shot at sharing the title.

The Gators are guaranteed at least a share of their fourth consecutive ALC championship; however, a loss to Northwestern would give the Buckeyes a chance at it as well -- if they then take care of business against Johns Hopkins on April 26.

In that case, both Florida and Ohio State would finish 5-1 in conference play. Florida, however, gets the nod as the ALC tournament's No. 1 seed with the head-to-head advantage win over the Buckeyes.

"We're just going to focus on Johns Hopkins," Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos said. "Our goal is to keep this momentum we have, and just be in the moment and not worry about standings and seedings until we need to."

Ohio State has won six straight games since its 10-9 loss to the Gators on March 22, including beating Notre Dame and Penn State in close games the past week. The Buckeyes opened the season 2-3 but have won nine of their last 10, sparked by notable wins over Louisville and Northwestern.

"We've had different people stepping up, and that's going to be important for us," Venechanos said. "We've used different lineups in and out this season, and we trust everyone. We are conditioned and deep, and that's been evident in how we're closing games. In the past, maybe we didn't have a chance to close those games, but our depth has been a difference."

No other team has a chance at the conference's regular-season title, though the ALC tournament championship will be up for grabs for the top four or five teams. Northwestern (9-4, 3-2) already has two conference losses going into its ALC finale, as does Johns Hopkins (11-2, 2-2), which still has two games remaining.

Overall, there are four more ALC matchups on the schedule before the tournament begins May 2. Florida travels to Northwestern on Saturday, while Vanderbilt heads to Michigan and John Hopkins plays at Penn State. Ohio State plays at Johns Hopkins on April 26.

"Top to bottom, every game is competitive (in the ALC)," Venechanos said. "Once you get to ALC tournament, seedings aren't going to mean much because each game brings challenges and battles. This is the last year the conference is in existence, so a lot of teams would like to be the last-ever champions."

ATLANTIC COAST CONFERENCE

No team has separated itself as the clear best women's lacrosse team in the Atlantic Coast Conference, so it's no surprise Syracuse, North Carolina and Maryland likely will share the regular-season title.

The true ACC champion will be determined at the end of the conference tournament, which begins April 24.

All three teams are 5-1 in the conference and all three already have played one another. Syracuse (14-1) lost to Maryland, Maryland (15-1) lost to Carolina, and Carolina (12-2) lost to Syracuse. So, unless an upset occurs this week, a tiebreaker will determine which one of the three will earn the top seed in the tournament.

"It's always a challenge playing in the ACC," Carolina coach Jenny Levy said last week. "You never know what's going to happen. I feel we are in a good position, but there are a few other teams that feel the same way we do. The key is just to get better as a team, believe in what you are doing and be fearless."

Boston College (11-4 overall, 3-4 ACC), currently fourth in the standings, is the only team finished with conference play, while everyone else has one game remaining.

There are four ACC matchups left to be played. Virginia travels to Virginia Tech on Wednesday, while North Carolina hosts Duke. Maryland plays at home against Virginia Tech on Saturday, when Notre Dame hosts Syracuse.

BIG EAST

Louisville leads the race in the Big East, but Georgetown lurks, with the conference title possibly being the Hoyas' only chance at the NCAA tourney via the AQ due to their current sub-.500 record. (Michelle Hutchins)

Louisville (10-3, 4-0) leads the race in the eight-team Big East as the only school without a conference loss. Already beating Georgetown, Temple and Villanova – three of the other four teams with two losses or less – makes the final stretch a little easier for the Cardinals, but the last big test is Thursday against Connecticut (8-5, 3-1).

The Huskies' lone loss in the Big East was to Georgetown (6-7, 3-1), which, despite its losing record, is on the rise as a contender for the title. The Hoyas play Villanova (7-6, 2-2) on Thursday, Temple (5-8, 2-2) on Saturday and Cincinnati (6-8, 0-4) on April 26.

AMERICAN EAST

Stony Brook is on track to repeat as American East Conference regular-season champions after beating Albany last week. The Seawolves (12-2, 3-0) still have to play New Hampshire (7-7, 2-1) on Saturday and Vermont (11-4, 1-2) on April 26, but Albany was considered the biggest hurdle. Albany (10-2, 2-1), which already beat Vermont, still isn't counted out, though. The Great Danes face UMBC on Saturday but still have to play New Hampshire on April 26.

ATLANTIC 10

Massachusetts (13-1, 4-0) shouldn't have a problem locking up the Atlantic 10 title but can put itself in even better position Saturday with a win over Richmond (9-4, 4-0), the only other team that is unbeaten in conference play. Duquesne (12-2, 3-1) also is still a team to watch and plays Massachusetts on the final day of conference play April 27. Everyone has three games left.

ATLANTIC SUN CONFERENCE

Jacksonville (9-5, 3-0) remains the favorite to repeat as Atlantic Sun champions with two games remaining on its conference schedule. Elon (6-7, 2-0) is the next best team and the Dolphins' final Atlantic Sun foe. They play April 27.

BIG SOUTH CONFERENCE

Davidson (8-5), High Point (8-5) and Longwood (7-7) are all 4-0 in the Big South Conference and the only teams at or above .500. High Point travels to Longwood on Saturday and hosts Davidson on April 27, and Davidson plays at Longwood on April 25 in the remaining big games.

COLONIAL ATHLETIC ASSOCIATION

Towson (9-6, 4-1) has clinched at least a share of the Colonial Athletic Association regular-season title and now is playing the waiting game to see how James Madison (8-6, 2-1) and Drexel (6-7, 1-1) finish. The two teams play Friday, which likely will decide it. James Madison finishes up against Hofstra on Sunday, and Drexel – the only CAA team to beat Towson – plays William & Mary on Saturday and Hofstra on April 26.

IVY LEAGUE

Penn (7-3, 3-0) is the lone team without a loss in the Ivy League but also has played the fewest number of league games. Its matchup against Princeton (8-4, 4-1) on Wednesday will be a big factor in how things play out. The Tigers, who fell to Brown early in the season, are the only other team with less than two losses.

METRO ATLANTIC ATHLETIC CONFERENCE

Marist (10-2, 4-0) and Fairfield (9-3, 4-0) are both unbeaten with four games to play in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference, but Canisius (8-5, 4-1) and Monmouth (6-7, 3-1) are still in the hunt. Marist and Fairfield play Saturday, while Canisius and Monmouth also meet in key conference games. The tournament begins May 2.

MOUNTAIN PACIFIC SPORTS FEDERATION

Denver (13-1, 7-0) is in the lead for the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation championship with the help of a recent key win over Stanford (11-2, 5-1). The Cardinal and Oregon (8-5, 4-1) could still join or surpass Denver at the top. The Pioneers play the Ducks on April 25, and Denver wraps up against Colorado (April 27).

NORTHEAST

Bryant (10-3, 4-0) remains the favorite to win the Northeast Conference, but Robert Morris (9-4, 3-1) and Wagner (7-6, 3-1) – which both lost to Bryant already – also still have a shot at the regular-season title with some help during the last three games. Wagner and Robert Morris meet April 25.

PATRIOT LEAGUE

Loyola (11-4, 7-0) can lock up the Patriot League title with a win over Navy (14-1, 6-1) on Saturday. The two teams would share the title if Navy wins, as everyone else has three losses or more. The Mids' only loss was to Boston University.


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