May 5, 2014

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WD3 Bracket Breakdown - Gettysburg and the Group of Death

by Mark Macyk | LaxMagazine.com | Twitter

Championship host Gettysburg can play for the title on their home field, but first have to get through a brutal group to earn a spot there. (John Strosacker/LaxPhotos.com)

Gettysburg has a chance to play for the NCAA Division III title on its own field on May 25. But to do so, the Bullets will need to emerge from Division III women's lacrosse's version of the Group of Death.

Gettysburg, Trinity, Middlebury, RPI all looked like Final Four contenders at the season’s outset, but only one can emerge from the group, of which Gettysburg is the top seed. Throw in wild cards Fredonia and Endicott, and whichever team does survive will certainly be battle-tested when the Final Four goes down in three weeks in Central Pennsylvania.

The other brackets won’t exactly be picnics either. Cortland sees Colby and Williams staring it down from the bottom half of its bracket. Franklin and Marshall nearly sent Salisbury home in last season’s NCAA quarterfinals. The two teams look to be on a collision course to meet in the same round this year. TCNJ and Amherst present a possible quarterfinal pairing in the other quadrant, setting up a matchup between two teams with NCAA championship trophies sitting back home.

Someone is leaving Gettysburg's field with a trophy at the end of this month. It could be the host Bullets, who would take it a few feet away to their trophy case and place it next to their 2011 championship. It could be Salisbury repeating, or Trinity winning its second in two years, or TCNJ winning its 13th overall title. Or it could be a team that has never won it before, like No. 1 overall seed Cortland.

But that’s all still a few weeks away. Plenty of lacrosse to be played before then. It’s time to analyze the bracket.

The Top Seed

Cortland

The Red Dragons dominated all comers during a tough league (and even tougher non-league) schedule, ending up with a 19-0 record and the tournament’s No. 1 overall seed. They beat six NCAA tournament teams during the season and beat Geneseo, which is hosting its first round game, by more than eight goals twice. Sophomore Erica Geremia continued her ascension, racking up  51 assists, which is second-most among players in the tournament. But don't expect a cakewalk to Gettysburg for Cortland. Colby and Williams of the NESCAC lurk in the bottom half of their region.

Last Team In

Susquehanna

The Crusaders, who may have been the first left team out in 2012, grab a Pool B bid after an 11-5 season that included a non-league victory over Fredonia and another trip to the Landmark title game. They'll host tournament newcomer Meredith in an opening round game with a trip to TCNJ on the line

First Team Out

Tufts

Turns out five NESCAC entrants were as far as the commitee was willing to go. They certainly could not have been faulted for including Tufts, which did not lose to a team ranked outside of the Top 10 all season.

Snubbed

Up-and-coming D3 Areas

Neither SAA regular season champion Centre, nor its tournament champion Sewanee, is dancing this year. That will change next season when the conference gets an automatic bid, but that likely offers little solace today. Colorado College, meanwhile, went 2-0 against the SCIAC but did not hear its name called. In the unenviable task of comparing teams from opposite sides of the country for Pool B bids, the committee turned to tradional lacrosse areas (Catholic, Susquehanna) and familiar NCAA tournament locales like Ohio (Mount Union) and California (Redlands, Pomona-Pitzer). It’s tough to find fault in that decision, especially because Pomona-Pitzer and Redlands defeated Sewanee head-to-head, but it doesn't lessen the left-out feeling for these non-coastal teams.

Best First-Round Game

Pomona-Pitzer at Redlands

This will be the fourth official game this between these two Southern California rivals, but it’s more like the fifth. They’ve gone to overtime all three times and racked up a combined seven periods of extra lacrosse. Redlands, which is making its fourth consecutive NCAA tournament appearance, holds a 2-1 record so far this season against the Sagehens, and has outscored them 39-37.

Seeded Too High

Fredonia

The Blue Devils had an excellent season, with wins over St. John Fisher and Washington College, but ended  on a three-game losing streak. They still picked up a home game in the opener, in which they will host RPI. The site for the game could very easily have been swapped, as the Engineers rallied to win 12 of their final 13 games.

Seeded Too Low

Middlebury

If the Panthers knock off Endicott, which is no easy task (the Gulls upset Bates earlier this season), the reward will be a second round date at Gettysburg. If they upset the Bullets, then Trinity likely waits in the quarterfinals. Yes, Middlebury was bounced in the first round of the NESCAC tournament, but the Panthers may have played the toughest schedule in the NCAA and have a win against Franklin & Marshall. At least they’ll be prepared for this gauntlet.

Upset Alert

St. John Fisher vs. York

The Cardinals are battle-tested (they played Cortland about as well anyone did all season and avenged an early-season loss to Ithaca to reach the NCAA tournament) and chock full of tournament experience (third straight NCAA appearance). York, which was upset by Montclair St. in the first round two seasons ago, will need to be on guard.

Best Potential Matchup

Gettysburg vs. Trinity (NCAA Quarterfinals)

Sure, a Cortland vs. Salisbury final is in play as is Trinity vs. Salisbury III, but any possible matchup during that final weekend at Gettysburg will be great. This one would offer the fans in Central Pennsylvania a nice warmup on the previous weekend. The matchup has a lot going for it. Two of the last three NCAA champions, with a trip to the NCAA semifinals on the line. Gettysburg fighting for a shot to play the Final Four on its own field. Trinity battling for a chance to redeem last season. Of course, this assumes they each make it through their treacherous second games in the Group of Death.

Don't Be Surprised If...

A public school rules. It would be a great story if Farmingdale St. or Bridgewater St. made a run to Gettysburg, but we’re talking about Division III’s big three public powers: Cortland, Salisbury and TCNJ. All three earned top seeds in their brackets and were placed safely away from the chaos of Gettysburg’s region. Private schools had won five of the previous six championships before Salisbury recaptured the crown last season. One of these three is a good bet to make it two in a row for the publics.


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