Women's Weekend Watch: NCAA Championship Rematch
1. 2015 Champion, Runner-Up Meet Again
No. 1 Maryland at No. 4 North Carolina, Saturday, 1 p.m. ET
The one game everyone has been waiting for is here – a rematch of the 2015 championship game between Maryland and North Carolina. The Terps claimed their second straight crown with a 9-8 comeback win over the Tar Heels, who led at halftime 6-3. Maryland dominated the second half 6-2.
"Who's going to deny a Maryland-Carolina game isn't fun?" said Maryland senior Taylor Cummings during the Terps' preseason media day. "Just being that it's our first rivalry game in the first early part of the season, I think that's something we're really excited about. But we do a really good job of focusing. We're going to go 1-0 23 times."
Historically, North Carolina has been the best matched with Maryland and was expected to be the Terps' No. 1 contender again this season. The Tar Heels not only faced their former ACC rival more times than any other team since 2010, no team has played more consistently with the Terps than Carolina. In the past three seasons alone, the Tar Heels only lost by more than two goals just once – in the 2013 ACC championship 12-8.
Yet, both teams look considerably different this year. Maryland lost seven starters and more than 40 percent of its point production, while Carolina lost six starters, four of which were defenders, and nearly 26 percent of its offensive production.
Cummings recognized losing key players could hurt, but who can bet against a team that has the two-time reigning Tewaaraton winner? While the Terps have dominated their first two games, against unranked William & Mary and Georgetown, by a combined 22 goals, this will be their first Top 20 opponent.
Cummings and Zoe Stukenberg currently lead the Terps with 10 points each, while Stukenberg and Megan Whittle have seven goals apiece. Offensively, the Terps appear solid, but the defense is where the questions surface. Thus far, Cummings has stepped up even more in a defensive midfielder role with a team-high seven caused turnovers. Who takes charge in cage could be revealed on Saturday as junior Emily Kift and freshman Megan Taylor have each started one game.
The Tar Heels, however, are coming off a tough one-goal loss to Florida, their first major test after All-American Maggie Bill decided to redshirt. The Gators jumped from No. 11 to No. 3 in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20 with the win, while Carolina dropped two spots from its preseason No. 2 ranking.
Before the loss, UNC coach Jenny Levy said, "We have what we need." While seven different players scored, including sophomore Marie McCool with a team-high six goals, they allowed the Gators to score four straight goals to tie it 8-8 at the half, which drove their momentum to win by one in the second half.
Looking at the game's box score, the Tar Heels outshot Florida, won the draw battle, and fouled less. That should've helped secured the win, but they couldn't convert on their shots and they turned the ball over more than they should have.
"We need to take care of the ball a little bit better," said Levy. "I know we'll use this opportunity to learn and get better."
With all week to prepare for Maryland, the lacrosse world will be able to see how Carolina has recovered from its loss to Florida – and its loss from the 2015 NCAA championship game.
Levy will be looking to her leaders to help seal the deal – Molly Hendrick, who has a team-high 17 points, followed by McCool with 16, Sammy Jo Tracy, who dominates in the midfield with 36 draw controls, and starter Caylee Waters, the reigning IWLCA Goalie of the Year.
2. Chances to Rebound
No. 14 Boston College at No. 13 Louisville, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
No. 16 Penn at No. 15 Duke, Sunday 12 p.m. ET
Both Boston College and Duke are coming off blowout losses, but the latter was hit with two straight losses, first falling against USC this past weekend and then unranked Elon on Thursday night.
The Blue Devils have since dropped from its preseason No. 12 ranking down to No. 15, but if they can't turn it around against Penn, that would leave some cause for concern. They were a final four team in 2015, but it appears they might have lost too much to replace – six starters and more than 70 percent of its point production, including their top four point getters. Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said in the preseason that she expected ups and downs, especially in the early part of the year. They're down now, but Sunday will be a chance to get up.
Their attempt to faceguard Michaela Michael was no test for USC, and Elon was allowed to come back in the second half, with the game winner coming with only six seconds remaining. Can the Blue Devils top Penn, who opened its season with a strong 12-10 win over Delaware?
Boston College entered the preseason just inside the Top 10 at No. 8 with expectations to show life after Mikaela Rix and Covie Stanwick graduated, with Tewaaraton finalist Sarah Mannelly returning. Yet the Eagles don't get one of their offensive stars Kenzie Kent until mid-season after the hockey season ends.
Notre Dame, whom they fell to by 10 goals, was ranked just one spot ahead of them during the preseason. The Eagles' loss in their ACC opener also left some big question marks, especially on offense against Notre Dame's unstoppable defense. Louisville, which expects to be on the rise after tying Team USA in the fall, will be a good test for Boston College. Was it just one off day, or was their loss to the Irish a sign of things to come?
3. First True Battles
No. 8 Penn State at No. 9 Virginia, Saturday, 12 p.m. ET
No. 10 Northwestern at No. 2 Syracuse, Sunday, 12 p.m. ET
Penn State (2-0) and Syracuse (4-0) have dominated in their respective early season matchups, with the latter scheduling unique double headers for the second consecutive year. The Nittany Lions beat their opponents by an average of 10.5 goals, while the Orange won by an average of nine goals in their four games.
With the exception of Loyola, who entered the season at No. 17 but have since dropped out of the Top 20 (but has the opportunity to re-enter after upsetting Johns Hopkins in double overtime on Wednesday), Syracuse has yet to face an opponent that has given them a true, close battle. Neither has Penn State, but the two teams will now face Top 20 opponents, who each have had their ups and downs already early in the season.
Virginia is coming off a 14-7 loss to Princeton after a stunning 10-8 upset of Northwestern. The Wildcats took last week off after their loss to the Cavaliers, but opened their season with an 11-8 win over Duke. Given Duke's losses, most recently against unranked Elon, it appears the domino effect drops the significance of both Northwestern's win over the Blue Devils, then Virginia's win over the 'Cats.
While both Virginia and Northwestern will be looking for statement wins, Syracuse and Penn State are aiming to hold strong. Junior Besser Dyson leads the Cavaliers with 11 points, sophomore Selena Lasota has a team-high eight points for the Wildcats, senior Kayla Treanor is still impressive for the Orange topping the charts with 16 points (and 38 draw controls – what more can she do?), and senior Madison Cyr has a team-best eight points for the Nittany Lions.
Where to Watch on TV/Streams
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