Women's Weekend Watch: Army, VCU Debut
After a light opening weekend for Division I women's lacrosse, highlighted by a thrilling 11-8 win for No. 5 Northwestern over No. 12 Duke, the season now gets into full swing despite frigid temperatures postponing or rescheduling a number of games. Navy's home opener against the Blue Devils, originally scheduled for Saturday, now takes place Friday at 4 p.m.
Here are some story lines to keep an eye on as teams hop on the road to Philly:
1. Army, VCU debut
It's been a long time coming for both Army and VCU to kick off their inaugural Division I seasons. The Black Nights (Patriot League) host Manhattan Friday at 3 p.m. and the Rams (Atlantic 10) play Gardner-Webb Sunday at noon.
Army was profiled in the Novemeber issue of Lacrosse Magazine for its Warrior Ethos, then again in LM's 30 in 30 fall ball series. As more women move toward combat and special forces, the Army women's lacrosse team has the next wave of leaders.
"It's so big for women in any of the services," Black Knights coach Kristen Waagbo said. "And I think adding a women's lacrosse program is a great way to produce tough, physical and mentally fit female officers for the Army."
VCU coach Jen O'Brien, who had prior stints at Stanford and Hopkins, also had to build her team from the ground up. The last time VCU started a new athletic program was in 1995 – women's soccer – and it took eight years for that program to dock a winning record. O'Brien and her recruits want to make history, not follow it.
"For some reason, when I first got into coaching at Stanford, the idea I always had was to start a program," said O'Brien. "I wasn't aware of how they start, but I knew I wanted to have the ability to create a culture and values and philosophies. There are a lot of amazing things I've been a part of and I've pooled them for this opportunity. We could have something special."
The Atlantic 10 conference has some competition as VCU keeps its eyes on the prize.
"I know there are plenty of people happy with .500 season," said O'Brien. "You know what we say? UMass has been there for six years and it's time for a new team to take over. We think we match up well against the teams in our conference."
Army and VCU are two of a handful of new programs in 2016 that will raise the number of NCAA Division I teams to 111, more than double the count from 2004.
2. No. 5 Northwestern vs. No. 11 Virginia
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET in Kennesaw, Ga.
For the second consecutive year, Virginia opens its season against Northwestern (The Wildcats won 6-5 in 2015). The Cavaliers will be looking to rebound from a one-goal loss and falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Yet after four All-Americans graduated, they have some rebuilding to do, especially on offense and in the midfield. The Cavaliers need to replace more than 60 percent of its point production and almost 80 percent of their draw controls from just a year ago. How will they fare against a top five team in Northwestern, another young squad, but a young squad with proven talent? Wildcats attacker Selena Lasota was dominant out of the gate, scoring a team-high five goals against Duke, and will be a threat this weekend, plus her supporting cast has another year of experience. Northwestern has also found a strong goalie in U.S. under-19 silver medalist Mallory Weisse. This game could be a good barometer for how Virginia has rebuilt its team.
3. No. 15 Stanford at No. 7 Notre Dame
Saturday, 12 p.m. ET at Loftus Sports Center
There's another familiar meeting on Saturday. This time last year, Stanford topped Notre Dame by two after All-American Cortney Fortunato, one of the most prolific scorers in Division I women's lacrosse, was shut out due to the strong defense of Cardinal defender Adrienne Anderson. Stanford also outshot Notre Dame and dominated on the draw. The Irish are expected to enter 2016 with a much stronger fight with a deeper roster led by seasoned veterans, like Tewaaraton finalist and defender Barbara Sullivan. But will it be enough to stop Stanford, which has just as high of expectations to go further in the NCAA tournament? The Cardinal looks to top the MPSF again this year and could pose a serious threat to Notre Dame. The Irish need to be strong early in the season to be sitting pretty come May.
Can Stanford defender Adrienne Anderson shutdown Notre Dame attacker Cortney Fortunato again? (Nick Kova)
4. Dark Horse Potential
Marquette hasn't been a team to normally be on anyone's radar, but according to Ohio State coach Alexis Venechanos, the Golden Eagles should be. While they fell to No. 14 Louisville 14-6 in their season opener, they defeated the Buckeyes in the fall, meaning there could be an opportunity for them to jump into the Top 20. "Marquette is going to be good," said Venechanos. "I think they could be a dark horse in the Big East. They are experienced now. They are well-coached. I've seen a lot of the Big East teams play. I've played against the Floridas and the Vanderbilts, but I think they are going to compete for a Big East championship." Keep an eye on the Eagles as they turn to face another Top 20 opponent in No. 13 Johns Hopkins Friday at 2 p.m.
5. Doubleheader Doozy
There's nothing like two games in one day to kick off one's season. For the second straight season, Syracuse will be playing doubleheaders in back-to-back weekends. It bode well for the Orange last year, allowing more players the opportunity to work into coach Gary Gait's systems, so why change the course? This weekend, Syracuse will host Loyola at noon and then Binghamton at 7:30 p.m. ET. On Feb. 21, the Orange will face Wagner and Marist. "Back when I started coaching women's lacrosse, we used to do a varsity and a JV game," said Gait. "It really just came back to that idea. Let's get some experience for our younger players. Let's give them an opportunity to play a real game as well. That's the idea behind it. We can certainly draw on the experience, but playing two games in one day is unique no matter what. It does gives us some insight on a weekend doubleheader type thing." It's good training for the ACC or NCAA tournament with potentially two games in one weekend. This year, Winthrop has followed suit. The Eagles will play Davidson and Saint Francis on Feb. 28, then Army and Bryant on March 12.
6. Uni Watch - No. 1 Maryland
Maryland won't be hard to miss this year. As the two-time reigning NCAA champion, the Terps will be aiming for a third straight national title. It comes as no surprise that Under Armour designed their 2016 uniform with that in mind – "Gold Pride 2.0." Can the Terps repeat their excellence and go for gold once more in the NCAA? Maryland opens its season against William & Mary on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Where to Watch on TV/Streams
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