March 10, 2016
Louisville's goal entering 2016 was to give senior Kay Morissette more support to make her a well-rounded player, not just a draw specialist. (Michelle Hutchins)
Louisville's goal entering 2016 was to give senior Kay Morissette more support to make her a well-rounded player, not just a draw specialist. (Michelle Hutchins)

WD1 Notes: Morissette's Real Tewaaraton Potential

by Megan Schneider | | Twitter | Schneider Archive

There's no question Maryland's Taylor Cummings and Syracuse's Kayla Treanor top the list of players that could qualify for the Tewaaraton Award at the end of the season. The senior duo has undeniably led their respective teams.

Cummings, a two-time winner, has a team-best 16 draw controls, 12 caused turnovers and 11 ground balls and ties sophomore Megan Whittle with 15 points. Treanor has a whopping 72 draw controls and 30 points, each topping the charts for the Orange.

But what about the best players from other teams?

The 2016 Tewaaraton Watch List features 50 early contenders across all three divisions, including four of the five 2015 women's finalists – Sarah Mannelly (Boston College), Barbara Sullivan (Notre Dame), Cummings and Treanor. Mannelly has a team-high 20 points for the Eagles, while the fifth-year senior has commanded the Irish defense with the most caused turnovers (23).

Duke and Maryland lead the women's Watch List, each with four players named candidates, followed by Boston College, North Carolina, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Penn State and Syracuse with three apiece. Five programs have two players on the list, while 14 teams have one representative.

It may be easy to point to the Terps and Orange as players to watch coming from traditional lacrosse hotbeds, but the tale of the 2016 Division I women's lacrosse season has been expect the unexpected.

Of those ranked in the Nike/Lacrosse Magazine Top 20, No. 2 Florida and No. 5 Louisville lead the pack with an untouched 7-0 record. It's not every day fans see teams from seemingly unconventional lacrosse areas rising to the top. Increased talent on a national scale shows signs of the sport's growth in the south.

Could Division I see a new champion? Time will tell, as the reigning two-time winner Maryland has also yet to lose, but both the Gators and Cardinals boast talent all across the field.

Florida has two players on the Tewaaraton Watch List – senior defender Caroline Fitzgerald and senior midfielder Mollie Stevens. Stevens has a team-high 17 goals and 14 draw controls, while Fitzgerald is third on the stat sheet with eight caused turnovers.

Louisville's lone candidate thus far for the Tewaaraton trophy is senior midfielder Kay Morissette, who leads the Cardinals in four categories – draw controls (67), points (26), goals (17, tied with Cortnee Daley and Hannah Koloski) and ground balls (17).

In relation to the team's success, that much dominance across the board only boosts Morissette's case to become Louisville's first Tewaaraton winner.

"The Tewaaraton Trophy is the most prestigious award given to a collegiate lacrosse player," said Louisville coach Kellie Young. "We know that. I have been around the conversation since the days of Sheehan Stanwick, Erin Elbe, Lisa Staedt and Gail Decker. It is an incredible honor and we feel blessed that Kay is part of the conversation."

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In the background of Young's interview, fans could see Morissette's pure joy describing the final draw control of the game. 

Young admits, "She's on a mission." Her maturity and confidence has only improved each year, while studying each game down to the placement of her teammates and opponents on the draw circle.

"Possession is everything," said Young. "Having Kay on the draw gives us another chance for redemption."

Similar to Cummings increasing her role on Maryland's defense, Morissette has done the same for Louisville – reading slides, sending the doubles and holding her own in one-on-ones. To Young, she's always in the right place at the right time, especially when it comes to snagging ground balls.

But Young added that the Cardinals are not talking about individual honors. In order to uphold the desired "championship mindset" in both the ACC and NCAAs, the team needs to succeed as a team. Talking about Morissette as an individual simply "takes away from the team."

"We have 27 players on the team, and we only succeed when all 27 players are present," she said prior to Louisville's 10-9 upset of Notre Dame.

When the Cardinals defeated the Irish in double overtime off a draw won by Morissette followed by her assist on Kelli Gerding's game-winning goal, Young's most memorable moments of the win were not the stats in the box score.

It was all about the starters hugging the reserves, Morissette hugging Koloski for handing them the first lead of the game, and then Morissette's excitement in her stance when Gerding scored. Even in the background of Young's postgame interview, fans could witness her pure joy talking to assistant Vicky Latino about how she won the draw for her team.

While Morissette is not a captain, her leadership is still ever-present. The burden of being the face of the Louisville program has lessened with one less challenging task on her mind.

"Kay is not a captain and that was my choice," said Young. "I also know about perception and that outsiders might thing something is wrong. Nothing is wrong. In fact, a lot is right. She is amazing. The decision was as a coach looking ahead to what we would need from her, her daily role and how important her consistent performance would to the success of our program."

That was the goal entering 2016: Give Morissette more support to make her a well-rounded player, not just a draw specialist, for which she landed on the cover of Lacrosse Magazine's March 2015 issue.

"We don't want her to carry all that weight," Young had said.

Among those helping hands are Heidi Smith jumping off the mark to control the draw, Daley relieving Morissette in transition, Koloski's speed and dodging lifting the offense and Gerding becoming the Cards' go-to feeder.

According to Young, the Cardinals "couldn't afford for Kay to struggle."

Everything certainly seems to be going according to plan.

"The big reason we have bought into a zone defense this year is due to this adjustment in the rule, and so far it has paid off," said Towson coach Sonia LaMonica. "The new system has contributed to our team having one of the lowest goals against averages in the country." (John Strohsacker)

Three Second Minor Foul: Love It or Hate It?

Prior to the season, teams were breaking down the 15 on-field rule changes for the 2016 season, many of which caused some confusion during fall ball on their execution. One such rule was the three seconds violation changing from a major to a minor foul.

"For the most part, the 'penalty and crime' fit better this way," said Virginia coach and NCAA rules committee chair Julie Myers. "Allowing the shot to be taken and moving the defender to the side was a very good and common sense adjustment that was made in the fall."

Rule 6-1.p states: "If the ball is outside the 12-meter when three seconds is called, penalty is administered at the spot of the ball and the player who fouled must move four meters away, relative to her position at the time of the foul. If inside the 12-meter, the ball carrier will be placed at the 12-meter relative to her position at the time of the foul and the offending player must move to the 8-meter directly in front of the ball carrier. If inside the critical scoring area but below GLE, the ball carrier will be placed at the closest dot and the offending player must move four meters toward the sideline from the dot. All others must stand."

"There are two spots where it's direct and one that's indirect, so the players need to understand where and when," said Loyola coach and NCAA rules committee member Jen Adams during the fall. "It would be more of a challenge as a coach trying to navigate our way through coaching that."

As many coaches predicted, teams have adjusted the way they play defense. Canisius coach Scott Teeter said it would have a "systematic effect" on the D-unit, while North Carolina coach Jenny Levy imagined more zones would be in the mix.

Now that every team has a few games under their belts, Myers referenced basketball as a means of comparison because the sport has been playing zone for years. Lacrosse defenses work in man patterns, backer concepts and now new zone principals, she said.

"Three seconds being a minor can make playing zone less of a risk in terms of putting a shooter on the 8 because it is, in ways, a reset foul and not necessarily a huge advantage of moving the ball to a much better spot than where the ball may have been at the time of the call," said Myers.

One team that has successfully implemented a zone is undefeated Towson. The Tigers have held their opponents to an average 5.20 goals per game and a 0.377 shot percentage. Towson currently ranks second in Division I for scoring defense, while USC is No. 1, allowing 4.50 goals per game.

Towson coach Sonia LaMonica thinks the new rule has made a positive impact on the game, making it harder for attackers to score. It's a boost for the defense, allowing for greater flexibility. There's no longer the expected 8-meter free position shot.

"When run effectively, a zone puts more pressure on the offense to rely on accurate and fast ball movement, and acute spacial awareness to stretch the zones," said LaMonica. "Everyone needs to be on the same page."

However, each defensive set has its pros and cons. Georgetown exposed holes in Towson's zone in the Tigers' 8-7 win. The backside elbow was left open for cutters to break through and precise feeds into the 8-meter.

Stony Brook, whose defense finished first in Division I in 2015 allowing only 5.50 goals per game, prided itself on a zone defense, but instead, has changed its strategy.

"For the most part, refs have quit calling it, so I have noticed teams playing some packed in zone defense," said Seawolves coach Joe Spallina. "We have always played some type of zone defense and because of the rule change, we have actually played more man to man."

The frequency of the calls is still under review as it's the first season with the new rules. Every June, the rules committee meets to discuss coaches' feedback and proposals, but every two years is a rules change year. Any necessary tweaks to the current rules will be voted on in June 2017.

"I think the three second new rule has changed the game negatively," said Penn coach Karin Corbett. "The history of the three second rule had to do with opening the 8-meter up for safety and more flow. Now, people are packing it in because really there is no penalty that affects the play. So why not camp out in there? It slows the game down in my opinion, which seems to be the basis for many of the new rules to speed the game up. More zones are creeping up with just packing it in. I think it is not good for the game."

Should the rule be reverted back to a major foul, or eliminated all together? The minor foul was the middle ground. Myers noted the strength of a zone is rooted within the players' movement, not the rules.

"I do think the three second minor foul should not be removed all together because it does continue to keep the defense honest," said LaMonica.

Sophomore attacker Kristen Shriver leads the 7-0 Winthrop Eagles with 20 points on a balanced 10 goals and 10 assists. (Winthrop Athletics)

The Unbeatens

As of March 3, 12 teams graced the top of Division I with undefeated records, but that number dipped below 10 following this past weekend's action. Three teams lost to drop out of that prestigious category – Notre Dame, St. Bonaventure and Stony Brook.

"Heartbreaker for us," said Seawolves coach Joe Spallina following their one-goal loss to Florida after a program-best 11-0 start in 2015. "Our depth is being tested and I love what I see. To compete with the best consistently, depth is the imperative, which will be a key component to advancing in May."

The first loss of the year never means the season's over. It's only the beginning of March. But of the nine teams still undefeated, all but two are currently ranked in the Nike/LM Top 20 – Cornell (4-0) and Winthrop (7-0). The Big Red have received votes in national polls, while the Eagles have not.

It's interesting to note that Winthrop's record is the same as those of the hottest women's teams in Division I right now – No. 2 Florida and No. 5 Louisville. However, the Eagles' strength of schedule is ranked 86th compared to the Gators at No. 10 and Louisville even higher at No. 4.

"Being a mid-major school that many people didn't know of other than our past basketball success, we have just flown under the radar and that's OK," said Winthrop coach John Sung. "We would love to receive votes or even be in the Top 20, but I understand that people will look at our schedule and complain about the strength of our schedule – and we should be 7-0 – but winning is still winning."

There's still something to be said about an undefeated record. Winthrop more than doubled Jacksonville in its season opener for the 13-6 win. Meanwhile, the Dolphins took No. 15 Towson (5-0) into overtime before falling by one.

It's hard to compare Winthrop within the national scene without playing Top 20 teams, but does its win over Jacksonville warrant some consideration for a few votes?

The Eagles are coming off a 17-4 2015, highlighted by its first-ever Big South tournament title, and they don't have any plans of slowing down anytime soon, just like the Gators and Cardinals.

"Starting 7-0 is pretty nice, but we understand it's how we play in April and May that will really evaluate this team," said Sung. "This team is very focused on accomplishing one of [our] goals, which is to win the Big South Championship in 2016. ... Another one of our team goals is to try to advance in the tournament, which is something that is very hard to do. Matchup is everything."

Winthrop fell to Virginia 18-6 in the first round of the 2015 NCAA Tournament, but as every coach says, 2016 is a new year and every team is different. Anything can happen.

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