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NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament First Round Preview (Part 1)

Breaking down the opening round match-ups on the left half of the bracket, which include the conference champs from the Ivy and the Patriot

Princeton freshman Kyla Sears played a critical role in winning the Tigers’ Ivy League championship.
Shelley Szwast / Princeton Athletics

Finally.

After three months of lacrosse, the NCAA Tournament is set to begin. After an interesting selection show on Sunday, which heeded some questionable judgments by the NCAA committee (more opinions to come on that over the summer), we have first round match-ups.

This Friday, 10 games will be played to whittle the field to 16. I’ll preview the games on the left side of the bracket today, with previews for the right side to be released tomorrow.

Adjusted offense and defense stats are taken from AnalyticsLacrosse.com (run by the fabulous Patrick McEwan, a.k.a. the Lax Film Room guy on Twitter). They are designed to estimate offensive and defensive efficiency based on the percentage of possessions on which the team would allow or yield a goal against an exactly average Division-I team (let’s say Binghamton).

Here goes.

High Point vs. Denver, 4 p.m. (at University of Maryland)

Tale of the tape

School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
Denver 12–6 16 Stanford (by 3), Colorado (by 2), Georgetown (by 5) Temple (by 1), Stony Brook (by 13), Florida x2 (by 5, by 12) 35.7 (31st) 19.7 (8th)
High Point 17–2 18 Duke (by 4), Notre Dame (by 6) North Carolina (by 4), James Madison (by 2) 34.8 (35th) 21.2 (16th)

Scouting Denver - The Pioneers locked their place into the NCAA Tournament with a critical win over the Georgetown Hoyas in the second round of the Big East Tournament last week. It’s the first time that Denver has made the NCAA’s since 2014. This team has a balanced offense with five players having scored at least 20 goals this season, including star freshman Quintin Hoch-Bullen, who ranks second on the team with 36 goals and 52 points this year en route to being named Co-Freshman of the Year in the conference.

Scouting High Point - Only the Stony Brook Seawolves have a longer win streak than the High Point Panthers, who have ticked off 16 straight wins since March 1. The huge question is the strength of schedule, particularly in the brutally bad Big South Conference. It’s difficult to assess how great a team High Point is, since they haven’t played anyone notable in over a month.

The Panthers impressed early in the season against North Carolina and James Madison (the No. 2 and No. 3 teams in the bracket), however. They took both games to the wire. The High Point defense is elite, ranking 8th in the NCAA in adjusted efficiency. On offense, the Panthers are spearheaded by senior attack Brooke Stevens, an all-Big South first team player. Stevens has 85 points this season.

What to expect - High Point has shown that it can keep up with the nation’s high talent (in the games played against JMU and UNC) and Denver has not shown this (getting blown out by both Stony Brook and Florida). For this reason, the Panthers seem more equipped to get it done in the tournament, although neither team is likely to scare Maryland in the second round.

The prediction - High Point 15, Denver 11

Navy vs. Johns Hopkins, 7 p.m. (at Loyola University)

Tale of the tape

School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
Navy 16–3 8 Loyola (by 7), Virginia (by 3) Boston College (by 6), Florida (by 3), Loyola (by 4) 47.4 (10th) 26.1 (35th)
Johns Hopkins 10–8 22 Loyola (by 3) Northwestern (by 1), Towson (by 1), Penn (by 1) 37.6 (26th) 20.2 (11th)

Scouting Navy - The Midshipsmen were the Cinderella of the women’s lacrosse world in 2017, making it all the way to the Final Four as an unseeded team with a regular season RPI of 25. One year later, Navy looks poised to make another run. For much of the season, Navy looked underwhelming and there were some questions about the team’s weak strength of schedule (their only win over a tournament team was against Virginia, a bubble at-large).

But this past weekend, Navy seemed to show why they are a legit powerhouse, with a dominant road win over Loyola in the Patriot League title game. Senior twins Jenna and Julia Collins combined for 183 points this season, with Julia scoring a game-high six goals in the win over Loyola. The two sisters, as well as sophomore Kelly Larkin, were all named to first-team All-Patriot League.

Scouting Johns Hopkins - Is there any team in the country more snake-bitten than Johns Hopkins? The Blue Jays have eight losses this year, the second most by any at-large team in the field, but the results don’t represent how the team has played. Three of those losses are to Maryland or Stony Brook, the top two teams in the polls. The other five losses are all to NCAA Tournament teams (at Penn, at Georgetown, at Penn State, vs. Northwestern, vs. Towson) and all by one goal.

The Blue Jays also made the tournament by virtue of their win over Loyola way back in February, but have the talent of a team that can make the second weekend. Junior attack Miranda Ibello has returned after an ACL tear last year to have a 62-point campaign.

What to expect - This will be a very close game. Navy will try to push the tempo, with Johns Hopkins trying to slow it down. Keep an eye on the draw circle. The Collins sisters really seemed to take over in that aspect of the game last year during their run, and may do it again.

The prediction - Navy 13, Johns Hopkins 11

#8 Loyola vs. Fairfield, 4 p.m. (at Loyola University)

Tale of the tape

School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
Loyola 15–4 10 Navy (by 4), Princeton (by 6), Towson (by 1) Navy (by 7), Florida (by 1), Syracuse (by 1) 44.6 (10th) 20.3 (12th)
Fairfield 13–6 50 Canisius x2 (by 3, by 4) Columbia (by 1), Marist (by 1), Lehigh (by 1) 33.0 (42nd) 28.3 (57th)

Scouting Loyola - In a questionable decision by the NCAA selection committee, Loyola earned the No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament and the right to host a pod, despite losing the Patriot League title game by seven goals against Navy. But the Greyhounds have a strong resume, including wins over Ivy League champions Princeton and NCAA Tournament No. 7 seed Towson.

Loyola is a pass-oriented team, ranking fourth in the country with 8.68 assists per game. Livy Rosenzweig, a freshman from Somers, New York, led the squad with 46 goals and 41 assists, while junior Hannah Powers was named Patriot League Attacker of the Year.

On defense, the Greyhounds had allowed single digits in six straight games, including a win over Georgetown, before giving up 17 versus Navy.

Scouting Fairfield - The Stags made the NCAA Tournament by virtue of winning the MAAC Championship over Canisius and have the lowest RPI of any tournament team not in the play-in game (Wagner vs. Mercer). Two Long Islanders made the all-MAAC first team (attacker Brenna Connolly and defender Megan Beach).

Erin Mammele, a junior, has been on faceoff duties for the Stags this season. Mammele, a self-drawer, has broken and run away with the program draw control record this season (now with 119).

What to expect - Loyola has been playing top-notch competition all season, while Fairfield has not (zero games against NCAA Tournament opponents). The Greyhounds’ experience in big games will work to their advantage, and they should outmatch the Stags.

The prediction - Loyola 18, Fairfield 8

Penn vs. Penn State, 5 p.m. (at Stony Brook University)

Tale of the tape

School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
Penn 13–4 11 Georgetown (by 12), Johns Hopkins (by 1) Princeton x2 (by 13, by 3), Maryland (by 6) 43.9 (16th) 21.4 (17th)
Penn State 10–9 21 Northwestern (by 5), Johns Hopkins (by 1) Stony Brook (by 8), Maryland x2 (by 5, by 9), Michigan (by 1) 49.7 (5th) 24.9 (31st)

Scouting Penn - For much of the season, the Quakers were Ivy League favorites. That is, until April 25. On that date, Penn was throttled on the road against league rival Princeton, who went on to win again in the Ivy League title game.

But despite the late-season mishaps, Penn has a sparkling 13–4 record despite playing in a deep conference. The team opened the year with seven straight wins, including four against teams ranked at the time.

Ball movement is the key to the Penn offense; the Quakers are one of only two teams in the NCAA this season with at least three players with 30+ assists (the other being Stony Brook). Their balanced attack makes it difficult for opposing defenses to face-guard anybody. Sophomore Gabby Rosenzweig, the older sister of Livy at Loyola, leads the squad with 78 points this season, while freshman Zoe Belodeau has 70.

Penn, while considered by many in the lacrosse world to be a defensive team, has given up goals in big numbers at times this year. Princeton scored 21 against them in their regular season meeting, while Dartmouth put up 14 in the Ivy League semifinals.

Scouting Penn State - The Nittany Lions went to the Final Four last season and had immense expectations in 2018, but have underachieved. Penn State may not have even made the NCAA Tournament field had it not been for the team’s Big Ten semifinal win over Northwestern.

But make no mistake. Nobody wants to play Penn State, who is still loaded with talent.

Senior midfielder Katie O’Donnell is the Lions’ star, and she became the first non-Maryland player to win Big Ten midfielder of the year since the Terps joined the conference. O’Donnell will enter Friday’s game just two goals away from 200 in her career.

Penn State plays a very contrasting offensive style to Penn, with a lot of offense being created off the step and not a whole lot of ball movement. Not a single Nittany Lions player has at least 20 assists this year.

What to expect - The two teams last played in the NCAA Tournament two years ago, when Penn State won in a very slow and deliberate 7–4 game before the addition of the shot clock to women’s lacrosse. This one should be much higher scoring.

The prediction - Penn 16, Penn State 15 (OT)

Syracuse vs. Princeton, 4 p.m. (at Boston College)

Tale of the tape

School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
School Record RPI Key wins Key losses Adjusted Offense Adjusted Defense
Syracuse 9–9 19 Florida (by 2), Loyola (by 1), Princeton (by 1) Boston College (by 1), North Carolina x2 (by 9, by 9), Duke (by 7) 48.5 (7th) 22.9 (23rd)
Princeton 12–5 13 Penn x2 (by 13, by 3), Penn State (by 1) Maryland (by 1), Syracuse (by 1), Loyola (by 6) 42.7 (18th) 20.0 (10th)

Scouting Syracuse - Will good Syracuse or bad Syracuse show up? When the Orange are on top of their game, they are as capable as any team in the NCAA, as the results vs. Florida and Loyola show. They also had Boston College beat on the road, but coughed up possession in the final minute and gave up a Sam Apuzzo buzzer-beater.

But the losses to North Carolina, including in the NCAA Tournament, were ugly. So was the loss against Duke, who isn’t even in the tournament field. The issue for Syracuse is similar to the issue with their men’s squad: too hit or miss.

On attack, sophomore Emily Hawryschuk is a star. She leads her team with 53 goals, including a six-goal effort in the team’s win over Loyola, which was a huge victory (with one more loss, the Orange would have been under .500 and ineligible for an at-large bid). Fellow attacker Nicole Levy has 38 goals this season and is a walking highlight reel for Syracuse.

The big question comes in the draw circle, where plans unraveled early this season with a season-ending knee injury to sophomore Morgan Widner. In her freshman season, Widner set an NCAA freshman record with 156. Prior to that, former attacker Kayla Treanor was among the best in the nation perennially for the Orange.

In Widner’s absence, Syracuse has struggled to win possession. The Orange have won just 43 percent of draws this year.

Scouting Princeton - The Tigers enter the NCAA Tournament having won eight of their last nine games. The one loss, by one goal to Maryland, wasn’t too bad either. Princeton is one of the scariest teams in the whole bracket the way the squad is playing right now.

Kyla Sears might be the best freshman in the country. She has 60 goals and 18 assists for Princeton. Four other Tigers also have at least 27 goals this year. At the other end of the field, freshman goalie Sam Fish has been a wall since taking over between the pipes midway through the year. She has a .506 save percentage.

On defense, Princeton can be elite. When the Tigers lost to Maryland on April 10, the Terps scored just 11 goals, their fewest since 2016. Junior defender Alex Argo was named to first-team All-Ivy League this season.

What to expect - This is a rematch of a regular season meeting, which Syracuse won 17–16 back on March 29. That game was back-and-forth, fast, exciting action, and the same can be expected on Friday night.

The prediction - Princeton 18, Syracuse 14


Be sure to look out for Part 2 of the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament First Round Preview, tomorrow evening!