April 29, 2014

WD1 Notebook: Vanderbilt, Florida To Join Big East

By Megan Schneider | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Florida will be joining fellow ALC rival Vanderbilt as affiliate members of the Big East in 2015. (John Strohsacker)

It can easily be argued that the American Lacrosse Conference (ALC) is the next best in women's lacrosse behind the ACC – each with four squads in the Top 10 this week. Florida bumps into the Top 5 surrounded by ACC foes, and with their tournament on the horizon, the ALC teams will face similar competition that they could in the NCAA Tournament.

"We continue to be one of the strongest conferences, if not the strongest conference, in the country," said Vanderbilt coach Cathy Swezey. "The SID and I were just joking about what our seeds are for the tournament and what people are actually ranked in the country, so it says a lot for what we've accomplished this year [as a conference]."

However, this year's ALC tournament is also its last. Each school will go its separate way in 2015, but many will choose to stick together. Women's lacrosse will witness a transfer of that ACC-comparable talent to the Big Ten – and the Big East.

It has long been known that Northwestern, Ohio State, Penn State and Michigan will be joining the ranks of 2014 ACC champion Maryland and current Big East participant Rutgers for the inaugural Big Ten conference next season. Hopkins will be staying independent for at least a year despite the Big Ten expressing interest in the women's team joining their men's counterparts.

"It's really important for the girls of our sport for one of the big conferences like the Big Ten to sponsor women's lacrosse," said Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos. "Nationally, it's really exciting for our sport. Hopefully, the Pac-12 picks it up, the SEC. We're hopefully going to continue to be a part of that development and the growth."

The question mark, on the other hand, lied in the future of both Florida and Vanderbilt. Though it has yet to be formally announced, Swezey shared some breaking insight:

"Vanderbilt and Florida, we're moving together and it looks like we're going to be affiliate members with the Big East," said Swezey.

In 2015, the Big East will feature eight teams, losing Rutgers to the Big Ten and Louisville to the ACC and gaining Florida and Vanderbilt. The Gators and Commodores will now look forward to adding Connecticut, Villanova, Marquette, Georgetown, Temple and Cincinnati to their regular season schedules.

MICHIGAN AND THE CONFERENCE REALIGNMENT

In its first year as a varsity program, Michigan will play in its inaugural ALC tournament as the No. 7 seed out of seven teams. The Blue didn't win a single game in conference play and has an overall 4-12 record. Though it may have been a tough regular season, the team hasn't placed much emphasis on the wins or losses.

"Our overall focus is on building a championship culture – a strong foundation to continue to build this program from," Michigan coach Jennifer Ulehla said. "I'm a believer that you've got to play the best to the be the best. Obviously with the American Lacrosse Conference, [four] of the seven teams are currently ranked in the Top 10 in the country and that speaks volumes for the amount of experience that we've been able to get throughout the season."

Ulehla is not a newcomer when it comes to building a program from the ground up. Prior to joining the Blue as the head coach, she was the assistant at Florida during its first varsity season in 2010. With the steps she took to help grow Florida's program, she knew having a competitive schedule against top-ranked teams was the best way for her Michigan team to learn and develop.

"Definitely having gone through it has certainly helped me prepare for what to expect," Ulehla said. "There was a reason behind [having a challenging schedule] and I think that reason is paying off right now. You've got to teach these young women what it takes to be successful and what it takes to be a champion."

Michigan will face Ohio State in the ACL quarterfinals on Thursday after falling to the Buckeyes, 18-3, in the regular season. Following that game, Ulehla said her team of 27 freshmen did a lot of soul searching and has since grown.

This will be the first and last ALC tournament for the Blue as they head to the Big Ten next season. Despite the quick turnaround, being a part of the Big Ten helps Michigan achieve the goal of becoming a future championship team.

"With Maryland and Rutgers joining, it's obviously going to be a very challenging conference and again, you've got to play the best to be the best," said Ulehla. "We'll be excited for that day when it comes."

QUICK SLANTS

Maryland and Loyola have each earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament winning the ACC and Patriot League conference tournaments, respectively. Maryland shut out Syracuse 13-7, earning its sixth consecutive ACC title in its final ACC tournament. Loyola dominated Boston University in an 18-7 blowout for its first Patriot League title, joining their men's counterparts who held Lehigh to seven goals in the league's championship game.

Vermont defeated fellow America East foe Stony Brook in a surprise 8-7 upset in overtime on Saturday. Tewaaraton nominee and Seawolves goalie Frankie Caridi had five saves with a save percentage that dropped below her season average of 0.565.

Jill Remenapp leads the Denver Pioneers – and Division I women's lacrosse – in total assists with 46. She had two in this past weekend's 11-5 win over Oregon.

Six schools that may not be on anyone's radar command the nation in ground balls, with two players tied for fifth. Caili Guilday of Stetson leads with 3.83 per game. Trailing her, in order, are Sydney Farwick of Kennesaw State (3.77), Rachel Ramirez of Elon (3.75), Shea Gegan of Wagner (3.63), Maria Kotas of Canisius (3.44) and Lexie McCormick of Detroit (3.44).

Columbia midfielder Paige Cuscovitch finished out her senior season with a hat trick, two ground balls and two draw controls. She also had one caused turnover to give her 80 in her career, which ties for first in program history with Kate Lombard.


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