Women's Weekend Watch: Top 20 Battles in the Spotlight
1. The undefeated streak shall end.
No. 5 Notre Dame (5-0) at No. 11 Louisville (6-0): Saturday, 2 p.m.
Nine teams in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20 are currently undefeated, but only three have played five or more games – No. 3 Florida, No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 11 Louisville.
With two games in three days, the Cardinals are coming its first-ever win over No. 10 Northwestern – by a commanding 10-4 score – as they turn to face the Irish in its final matchup in a three-game home stand, the first of which was their first ACC win of the season over Boston College. Louisville's 6-0 record ties its best start in program history.
Prior to the game, Cardinals coach Kellie Young was preaching a "championship mindset. ... This is who we are. This is what we're doing. You just have to believe – even when you are playing these historic programs."
After winning only two ACC games in its first season in the conference in 2015, Louisville's goal has not only been to climb the ACC, but also go deeper in the NCAA tournament. Tying Team USA in the fall, whose team has current stars like Taylor Cummings and Kayla Treanor, set the standard entering 2016.
Kaylin Morissette tops the charts for the Cards with a team-high 21 points (16G, 6A), an impressive 58 draw controls, and 15 ground balls. Cortnee Daley and Kelli Gerding both have 18 points, while Courtney Boyd leads defensively with eight caused turnovers. After seeing action in only nine games as a freshman last year, the team's lone goalie Brittany Read boasts a 0.642 save percentage.
Scouting Notre Dame, however, is no easy task. The Irish are also on the rise, enjoying the climb. They have dominated their first five opponents by a combined score of 80-24 with a first-half advantage of 44-9. Their only game that was decided by fewer than 10 goals was when they stopped No. 13 Stanford 13-9 with an 8-0 run in the second half. Notre Dame's 5-0 start is its best since a record-tying 10-0 start in 2013 when this year's seniors were freshmen.
"By no stretch or means are we overthinking where we are now or celebrating where we are," said Irish coach Christine Halfpenny. "We're very level-headed. Everything is happening because the girls are making it happen. Nothing is luck at this point."
Junior attacker Cortney Fortunato leads the Irish with 29 points, following by Rachel Sexton and Heidi Annaheim with 18 and 17, respectively. Thirteen different players have scored this season, making Notre Dame's offense as much of a threat as its stingy defense led by Tewaaraton finalist Barbara Sullivan, who has a team-high 15 caused turnovers. It may be a battle of goalies this weekend as Irish freshman Samantha Giacolone, a U.S. under-19 silver medalist, also has a save percentage above 50 percent (0.593).
2. Can the Seawolves still prove people wrong?
No. 3 Florida (5-0) at No. 7 Stony Brook (1-0): Sunday, 1 p.m.
Stony Brook had a breakthrough 2015, highlighted by wins over Notre Dame, Florida and Northwestern, but the season was cut short after a disappointing 8-4 loss to Princeton in the second round of the NCAA tournament. Coach Joe Spallina said they "didn't really have much left in the tank" in terms of energy and emotion come May, which was all exerted in those defining wins.
The Seawolves welcome the target on their back, but while they're the hunted, they're also the hunter. "Proving people wrong" has been their slogan over the past year and they want to carry it over into 2016. But first, they need to control their emotions and be calm and ready because the season – and tough opponents – have approached more quickly than they thought. After upsetting Syracuse in overtime, Florida will be riding that win into its matchup against Stony Brook and have no intention of slowing down anytime soon.
"This was another fantastic win for this team and our program," said Florida coach Mandee O'Leary, whose team upset North Carolina just one week prior. "It wasn't easy, but what a game. This team works so hard and these wins are a result of the hard work they put in every day in practice."
The Gators are led by double-digit scorers Mollie Stevens (16 goals), Shayna Pirreca (10 goals) and Sammi Burgess (10 goals). Freshman Sydney Pirreca is close behind with nine goals. Stevens has a team-high 13 draw controls, while Taylor Bresnahan has tallied 12 ground balls and 10 caused turnovers defensively. After a lights-out performance against the Orange (a 9-2 edge on saves), Mary Sean Wilcox will be confident as she turns to face the Seawolves.
Stony Brook may have had the latest start to the season as the last team in the Nike/LM Top 20 to play its first game, an 18-4 win over Bryant. Yet all but three starters return from the 2015 roster, including Kylie Ohlmiller, who was one of three freshman Tewaaraton nominees. She had a team-high seven points in the Seawolves' season opener and was trailed by Courtney Murphy (five points) and Dorrien Van Dyke (three points). Kristin Yevoli has a team-best six draw controls and freshman Anna Tesoriero has earned the starting position in goal.
Can the Seawolves support its No. 4 preseason ranking with a win over the Gators?
3. March Madness is here.
No. 20 Loyola (1-3) at No. 9 Penn State (3-1): Saturday, 1 p.m.
Yes, it's still early, but as Penn State coach Missy Doherty called it, March Madness is upon us. Basketball isn't the only sport to experience a tough slate this month. The Nittany Lions are playing two games each week and are coming off an 11-7 win over Johns Hopkins on Wednesday before returning home to face No. 20 Loyola on Saturday.
This game is interesting to note because before Penn State downed Hopkins, the Greyhounds did the exact same thing last Wednesday (8-7, 2OT). The Blue Jays are now 3-2 after back-to-back losses. While there's still plenty of time before the NCAA tournament, results against common opponents is one of the primary criteria when the selection committee is determining at-large bids.
Penn State appears to have played the better game, after leading 4-1 at halftime and holding Hopkins to one goal in the first 52 minutes of the game, but if you look more closely, both the Greyhounds and Nittany Lions won the second half by only one. Loyola was able to keep the momentum going and win in the second overtime period, but Penn State allowed the Jays to dominate 6-2 in the final 7:40. It was too late for Hopkins, and luckily for Penn State, the scoring run wasn't more, but coaches always preach playing strong for a full 60 minutes.
Who will earn the edge after beating a common opponent? Will Madison Cyr's offensive leadership lift the Nittany Lions over Loyola? Or will Greyhounds starting goalie Molly Wolf hold them off?
4. Falling to Florida can't hold Syracuse back.
No. 2 Syracuse (5-1) at No. 8 Virginia (4-1): Saturday, 1 p.m.
Syracuse has had its eye on the prize for several years now, but when will the Orange finally win a national championship? Many thought 2016 would be the year with Kayla Treanor as a senior, but after losing to Florida in overtime on an open net goal, questions emerged if they would be knocked off again come May.
However, every team has their ups and downs. No team can be perfect. Take Maryland for example. Coach Cathy Reese told her team that it's hard to be perfect and it's something that must be accepted, but "if you strive for perfection, you'll land among excellence." The Terps were upset by Ohio State in the Big Ten tournament, but went on to win their second straight national title.
Following the Florida loss, Syracuse coach Gary Gait said, "You make mistakes and you pay the price." But the players want to rebound and believe they can.
"We should be fine," said Orange attacker Riley Donahue. "We play these teams for practice, to know what we should do better and what we should improve on."
The Orange have been a strong team from the get go with Treanor unquestionably leading the way. She has 23 points and a whopping 65 draw controls. But Halle Majorana is just as much of a threat on offense (23 points, team-high 14 goals), as is freshman Nicole Levy (15 points).
Their game against Virginia is third in a stretch of four straight Top 20 games and is their ACC opener. Both Syracuse and UVA have already beaten Northwestern, so how will the two match up? Despite a slipup against Princeton, the Cavaliers have looked strong with Posey Valis, Kelly Reese, Kasey Behr and Besser Dyson each with 10 goals or more.
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