Women's Weekend Watch: West Coast Showdown
1. NCAA Tournament Rematch
No. 12 Duke vs. No. 19 USC: Saturday in Costa Mesa, Calif., 10 p.m. ET
USC's fourth season is underway, beginning with a dominant 21-2 season-opening win against Stetson at home. The Trojans now will travel less than 50 miles south to face Duke in a rematch of their second round meeting in the 2015 NCAA tournament — a 17-9 win for the Blue Devils. Duke went on to make the final four.
But much has changed for the Blue Devils since. They lost six starters, including their top four point getters Kerrin Maurer, Brigid Smith, Katie Trees and Taylor Trimble, and more than 70 percent of its offensive production. There is rebuilding to do, but this program has reached the NCAA quarterfinals 11 straight years and Kelsey Duryea is entering her fourth year as the starter in goal. Duke is currently 2-1 on the season with wins over Navy and Campbell and a three-goal loss to Northwestern.
USC's roster from last season has remained mostly intact. The Trojans return just about every meaningful component from the team that earned its first NCAA tournament appearance last year, including their first All-American Michaela Michael and first-team All-MPSF selections Caroline de Lyra, Amanda Johansen and Courtney Tarleton. Michael had seven points and 12 draw controls in their home opener.
2. North Carolina's First Test
No. 11 Florida at No. 2 North Carolina: Saturday, 11 a.m. ET
With word that Maggie Bill is redshirting, North Carolina coach Jenny Levy is confident her team has what they need to replace her prowess from last season, including a team-best five-point performance in the NCAA championship against Maryland.
There's no question the Tar Heels are loaded with talent, including the now-healthy Molly Hendrick who currently leads with 12 goals and Sammy Jo Tracy who has grabbed a team-high 26 draw controls. Freshman Olivia Ferrucci, a U.S. under-19 silver medalist, trails Hendrick by two points, and last year's freshman standout Marie McCool is third on the team with 10 points.
But this weekend's matchup against Florida will be a good barometer for how much losing Bill could affect Carolina's season, if at all, as they aim for a second national title.
While Shannon Gilroy graduated and the draw a key area the Gators need to work on — evident by their last game against Michigan where they lost the draw battle 16-9 — the Gators have unquestionable talent offensively. Lindsey Ronbeck also was a 2015 U.S. under-19 team member. Then there is Mollie Stevens, who has trained with the senior women's U.S. team, and the Pirecca sisters – another unstoppable duo.
3. All Eyes on Ivy Frontrunner
No. 5 Virginia at No. 10 Princeton: Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
All eight Ivy League teams play their first games of the season this weekend, but the top match to keep an eye on is Princeton's home opener against the Cavaliers, who upset a top five team in Northwestern in their season opener.
The Tigers are looking to repeat as conference champions, having won the outright regular-season crown for the 11th time (and fifth time with an undefeated record) and its second overall tournament title. But its first out-of-conference game won't be easy. Can Virginia follow up its strong performance with another win at Princeton?
The Cavaliers boast a talented goalie in sophomore Rachel Vander Kolk, who docked 12 saves and stopped more than 75 percent of Northwestern attacker Selena Lasota's shots. UVA also has a balanced offense with multiple scorers and a proven faceguarder, Wyatt Whitley, who limited Lasota. Meanwhile, the Tigers have a strong returning lineup with the 2015 Ivy League Tournament MVP Olivia Hompe, a junior attacker, leading the way on an offense that finished third in Division I, plus a loaded defense anchored by Liz Bannantine.
In the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine preseason Top 20, both teams were expected to be neck and neck being only two rankings apart. Princeton settled just inside the Top 10 at No. 9 before the subsequent shuffling with Virginia, which has jumped six spots from its original No. 11 ranking. Time will tell how these two match up.
4. Statement Weekend for Blue Hens
No. 20 Delaware at No. 16 Penn, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
Delaware won the inaugural NCAA women's lacrosse championship in 1983 and was a staple in the national Top 20 for years. But the Blue Hens haven't been to the NCAA tournament since 2000, which was also the last time they finished the year ranked in the national Top 20.
Delaware alum Kateri Linville, a freshman on Delaware's last NCAA tournament team, is now in her sixth year as head coach and hoping to return the Blue Hens to their glory days. The Blue Hens have posted winning records the last three years and feature a veteran roster with 11 seniors, including Casey Lyons who leads the team with nine points (5g, 4a).
The No. 20 Blue Hens are off to a 2-0 start this year after beating Georgetown for the second year in a row, but face one of their biggest tests of the season this Saturday at Penn.
No. 16 Penn is one of just two nationally-ranked teams Delaware will face before beginning conference play in late March (Delaware also plays No. 4 Stony Brook on March 19).
5. Two More Games To Watch
No. 9 Boston College at No. 8 Notre Dame: Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
Both teams have been impressive early this season. Boston College opened with an 18-9 victory over Boston University, followed by another dominant performance against Holy Cross, winning 19-6. Notre Dame defeated both Jacksonville and Stanford by a combined 17 goals. Who will prevail on Sunday in their first ACC match of the year?
The Eagles are currently led by freshman Sam Apuzzo, who has a team-high seven goals, 12 draw controls and six ground balls. She added one assist thus far to tie veterans Tess Chandler and Caroline Margolis with eight points. Sarah Mannelly, the program's first Tewaaraton finalist, follows with four goals and three assists.
The Irish are led by fifth-year senior and Tewaaraton finalist Barbara Sullivan, whose defense secured their win over the Cardinal. She had seven caused turnovers and six draw controls, while Cortney Fortunato led the team offensively with four goals, including two in their second half 8-0 scoring run.
No. 17 Ohio State at No. 15 Stanford: Sunday, 3 p.m. ET
Stanford has well established itself as an MPSF power, being crowned the conference champion nine times in its 12-year history, but the team hopes to move past the MPSF and go deeper into the NCAA tournament. That starts with winning key out-of-conference games. After leading 4-3 at halftime and then allowing Notre Dame to dominate the second half, the Cardinal will be looking to erase the loss by defeating its next top 20 opponent.
Ohio State lacks experience after graduating its winningest senior class, but boasts speed as its X-factor. Cian Dabrwoski leads the Buckeyes after catching fire in the second half of last season and finishing with 29 goals and 10 assists, including four goals against Maryland's lone loss of the season.
OSU will be playing two games in three days on the road in California, first against Cal on Friday at 5 p.m. ET. Can the Buckeyes hold off Stanford?
Where to Watch on TV/Streams
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