Weekend Takeaways: Continue to Expect the Unexpected
Just about every team has its season underway in Division I women's lacrosse, but things are far from sorted out on the eve of Leap Day.
Certainly, Maryland proved that it is still the target at which other programs are aiming with Saturday's victory over North Carolina. And yes, a few other programs are unbeaten and playing very well. But things are certainly not settled in any meaningful way as we move to March.
Just look at this weekend's action. Princeton, fresh off a dominating win over Virginia last week, needed overtime to down a winless Georgetown team. Virginia bounced back from last week's loss and was dominant at times in handing Penn State its first loss of the year. Duke was shocked by Elon during the week, but recovered to defeat Penn on Sunday. Loyola bounced back from a rough start with a double-overtime win over Johns Hopkins, only to fall to its other neighbor Towson on Sunday.
Call it parity. Call it early-season chaos. But understand that it seques right into the first thing we're taking away from the weekend.
1. Continue to expect the unexpected.
Being in the business of producing preseason rankings for a long time, I can vouch for the fact that it's only an educated guess when those Top 20s make their debut around the holidays. Any coach will tell you that no team is anywhere near its final form when it takes the field for the first time, and this month (and its final weekend in particular) certainly bore that out.
Duke was probably the standard-bearer for the unexpected this week, losing by a goal to Elon but then recovering to defeat a ranked Penn team Sunday. Elon is a third-year program that Duke had routed in two previous meetings. But the Blue Devils got caught sleeping Thursday, perhaps overlooking the Phoenix between last week's loss to USC and Sunday's game against Penn.
"Elon did a really good job of taking us out of our game [Thursday]," Duke coach Kerstin Kimel said. "But I also think it was a game and a day where we did not prepare ourselves to really come out and compete at the highest level the way you need to against a really quality opponent. That's a tough lesson to learn, but our kids learned it. We recognize that too many mental mistakes really hurt us Thursday, and we saw less of those today."
This time of year is both terrifying for fans, and great for teams, because you get to learn these lessons that will carry you through the ever-important conference and NCAA tournament schedules. We'll probably see things stabilize in the coming weeks, but for the time being, expect the chaotic results to keep coming.
2. UNC has lost two straight. The Tar Heels are still very good.
North Carolina fans shouldn't stress too badly about their team entering March at 3-2. Both losses came by one goal, against excellent Florida and (obviously) Maryland teams.
In an NCAA championship rematch Saturday, North Caroina's defense held the defending champion Terrapins to less than half of their average offensive output so far this season. It just wasn't enough to overcome a three-goal halftime deficit against a team that has only lost twice since the Tar Heels defeated them in the 2013 NCAA final.
"I thought the first half was a little sloppy and we left some opportunities out on the field," North Carolina head coach Jenny Levy said. "The second half was a little better. Overall we played well. We held them to eight goals, which not many teams will do this season. We need to learn from this and improve going forward."
3. Maryland can win in more than one way.
No stranger to the target that comes with being the defending NCAA champion, Maryland showed that it can win in more than one way - an important tool as every team on its schedule will continue to throw everything it has at the Terrapins.
Against North Carolina, the Tar Heels defense and goalie Caylee Waters had a career day with 13 saves. So Maryland fought fire with fire - ratcheting up its own defensive effort and holding their opponent to less than half of their own season scoring average.
Freshman goalie Megan Taylor performed well with eight saves in her first full collegiate outing (she had split time with Emily Kift in blowout wins over William and Mary and Georgetown before going the distance against the Tar Heels), aided by her defense disrupting North Carolina's crisp passing game - only one of its seven goals was assisted.
With an offense that bosts players like two-time Tewaaraton winner Taylor Cummings, sophomore star Megan Whittle and many other dangerous players, being able to win in defensive battles only makes Maryland a tougher out for any of the teams hoping to find a chink in their armor.
4. The South may be rising.
The recent vanguard in the explosive growth of the women's game, the South is starting to see some programs earning unexpected victories with greater frequency against the game's establishment. Elon's win over Duke is an obvious one to point to this week. But High Point also snagged a victory over a Top 20 team, beating James Madison by a convincing 15-9 margin on Sunday. Winthrop is unbeaten at 4-0, including a win over a Jacksonville program that has owned the Atlantic Sun Conference's playoff bid of late.
There's certainly a long way to go for many of the newly established programs in the Big South, Atlantic Sun and other conferences, but it's possible we may be seeing a trend develop where teams heading south for early games may have to worry even if their destination isn't Chapel Hill, Gainesville or Durham.
Syracuse's Kayla Treanor scored four goals and had 14 draw controls in the Orange win over Northwestern. (Greg Wall)
Kayla Treanor, Syracuse
In a big game for the Orange, their star came up huge, scoring four goals and winning 14 draw controls in a 16-12 victory over Northwestern on Sunday at the Carrier Dome. Treanor is second on the 5-0 Orange with 11 goals and leads the team with 10 assists and a whopping 52 DCs.
Allie DaCar, Stanford
The Cardinal were outshot 29-24 against Harvard, yet won 13-4. The big reason for that was DaCar, who made 14 saves to earn the victory and help Stanford improve to 3-1.
Kelly Reese, Virginia
The junior from Maryland had a career day, as the Cavaliers got back in the win column by holding off Penn State in a Top 10 showdown. Reese scored five goals, including what proved to be the game winner, and added an assist in Virginia's 16-13 win.
Game of the Weekend
With a nod to the Chapel Hill NCAA championship rematch, Penn State and Virginia put together a whopper of a game themselves Saturday afternoon, with the Cavaliers getting back to the win column by building a big lead and then holding off a hard-charging Nittany Lions team hoping to avoid its first defeat of the season.
Leading 12-6 after a 3-0 second half run, Virginia seemed like it had a signature victory in the bag, rebounding from a setback last week against Princeton. But Penn State went on a six-goal roll to tie the score at 12, only to see the Cavaliers volley right back with a 4-0 run to close it out.
It was a classic see-saw battle with a ton of scoring, and that's what fans like.
Numbers of Significance
Goal differential for Elon in its first two games against Duke. After Wednesday's third meeting, it's down to -29. The Phoenix pulled off a shocking 9-8 victory over the No. 15 Blue Devils. The win moved Elon to 4-0 before it fell Sunday to Vanderbilt.
Years between victories over Commonwealth rival Virginia Tech for Old Dominion, which downed the Hokies on Saturday to improve to 3-0. The Monarchs took wins in 1996 and 1997, but had lost every game since 2009 when the schools restarted their annual contests.
Teams that have yet to play a game in 2016 as the calendar flips from February to March. George Mason was supposed to play its opener on Feb. 24, but saw that contest (against Mount St. Mary's) postponed. The Patriots open with Lafayette on Saturday. Howard opens its slate with Delaware State at home Thursday. Contrast that with Virginia Tech, which already has played eight games.
Wins for Florida after a rout of Dartmouth on Saturday. The Gators hit the century mark four games into the program's seventh year.
Quote of the Weekend
"We just play hard, and that's the way it goes sometimes."
- Syracuse head coach Gary Gait after his team and Northwestern were whistled for a combined 83 fouls in Sunday's 16-12 Orange win.
No. 1 Maryland edged North Carolina 8-7 after beating the Tar Heels by a single goal in the 2015 NCAA championship game. (Peyton Williams)
How the Nike/LM Top 20 Fared
1. Maryland (3-0): Beat North Carolina 8-7; next: Saturday vs. Hofstra.
2. Syracuse (5-0): Beat Northwestern 16-12; next: Tuesday vs. Florida.
3. Florida (4-0): Beat Dartmouth 16-6; next: Tuesday at Syracuse.
4. North Carolina (3-2): Lost to Maryland 8-7; next: Sunday vs. Albany.
5. Notre Dame (5-0): Beat Colorado 14-4, Beat California 21-2; next: Saturday at Louisville.
6. Princeton (3-0): Beat Drexel 16-9, Beat Georgetown 10-9; next: Saturday at Dartmouth.
7. Stony Brook (1-0): Beat Bryant 18-4; next: Sunday vs. Florida.
8. Penn State (2-1): Lost to Virginia 16-13; next: Wednesday at Johns Hopkins.
9. Virginia (3-1): Beat Richmond 18-12, beat Penn State 16-13; next: Wednesday vs. William &
10. Northwestern (1-2): Lost to Syracuse 16-12; next: Thursday at Louisville.
11. Southern California (2-0): Did not play; next: Friday vs. Michigan.
12. Johns Hopkins (3-1): Lost to Loyola 8-7 (2OT); next: Wednesday vs. Penn State.
13. Louisville (5-0): Beat Vanderbilt 15-5, beat Boston College 7-6 (OT); next: Thursday vs. Northwestern.
14. Boston College (2-2): Lost to Louisville 7-6; next: Wednesday vs. Massachusetts.
15. Duke (3-3): Lost to Elon 7-6; beat Penn 12-6; next: Saturday at Virginia Tech.
16. Penn (1-1): Lost to Duke 7-6; next: Wednesday vs. Rutgers.
17. Stanford (3-1): Beat Harvard 13-4; next: Sunday vs. Vanderbilt.
18. Connecticut (3-0): Beat New Hampshire 13-7; next: Saturday at Rutgers.
19. James Madison (1-3): Lost to High Point 15-9; next: Thursday at Colorado.
20. Massachusetts (4-0): Beat Boston University 11-8, beat Yale 13-3; next: Wednesday at Boston College.
Five to Watch This Week
Florida at Syracuse (Tuesday): Syracuse barely has the time to ice down after Sunday's win over Northwestern before getting right back at it, facing the unbeaten Gators at the Carrier Dome. Both have racked up impressive starts, and a win here would carry plenty of weight down the road for tournament seeding.
Michigan at USC (Friday): Unbeaten USC has been off since its victory on Feb. 20 over Duke, so the Trojans certainly will be well rested. They shouldn't, however, overlook the Wolverines, who played No. 3 Florida very tough (the Gators won 12-11) earlier in February and have won two straight.
Syracuse at Virginia (Saturday): Another in a brutal stretch for Syracuse, and another chance to see which Virginia team shows up. The Cavaliers have yo-yo'd between big wins (Northwestern and Penn State) and a lopsided loss to Princeton. Just another day in the ACC.
Notre Dame at Louisville (Saturday): Louisville may or may not still have an unbeaten mark by the weekend after taking on Northwestern, but it will be interesting to see how they stack up with the formidable Fighting Irish in this one regardless.
Florida at Stony Brook (Sunday): With a later start to the season than most D-I teams, Stony Brook has yet to face a significant test. That will change when the Gators come to town. Last year's victory over Florida was a strong indicator that the Seawolves were for real.
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