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Takeaways from the 2019 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse opening weekend

Notre Dame, Northwestern and North Carolina were some of the teams that turned heads most

NCAA Lacrosse: Women’s Lacrosse Championship-James Madison vs North Carolina Chris Bergmann-USA TODAY Sports

Of the preseason Inside Lacrosse Division-I women’s lacrosse poll, 16 of the 20 ranked teams took action over the opening weekend. (Loyola, Princeton and Penn will all open next Saturday, while Stony Brook has the latest season-opener, on Feb. 22.)

Here were some of the key takeaways from the first three days of regular season action.

The ACC is stronger than ever

On the men’s side, much has been made of the ACC’s struggles so far (Duke losing to High Point and Syracuse falling to Colgate) but on the women’s side, it was nearly a clean sweep for the conference, spare lowly Louisville.

North Carolina started its 2019 season at home against the team that accounted for two of its four losses in 2018: James Madison. But in Saturday’s rematch at Chapel Hill, everything turned up Tar Heels.

On offense, it was the Katie Hoeg and Jamie Ortega show for the Carolina blue. Hoeg recorded nine points, including six assists. Ortega had a game-high five goals. These two don’t have the name recognition that Boston College’s Sam Apuzzo and Kenzie Kent have, but as a duo, they’re just as lethal. Expect Hoeg and Ortega to hook up on many more goals this year. Freshman Tayler Warehime, a product of Manchester Valley in Maryland, tallied four goals in her collegiate debut.

But the Tar Heels’ dominance was most noticeable in the draw circle, where they had a 22 to 5 advantage. Last season, the teams each had stars on faceoffs; North Carolina had Tewaaraton finalist Marie McCool, while James Madison had former CAA Player of the Year Haley Warden. In Saturday’s game, it was more draw-by-commission, but nevertheless it was a huge margin in favor of North Carolina. Senior Gianna Bowe — standing just 5-foot-0 and playing a position mostly dominated by tall girls — had a game-high nine draw controls.

In net, Taylor Moreno did her thing. She saved 10 of 17 shots on goal to begin her season with a save percentage well over 50 percent.

Across the rest of the ACC, there were similar bouts of steep supremacy.

Syracuse crushed UConn. Remember the name Meaghan Tyrrell. The Mt. Sinai freshman was magnificent in her college debut.

Top-ranked Boston College easily handled its local, actually-located-in-Boston, rival Boston University. Kenzie Kent showed no rust in the romp, recording a sensational nine points in her return to the lacrosse field.

Virginia Tech managed to rout Bucknell by 10, but the Hokies offense seemed a bit slow to pull away from a weak Bison team.

But the team that impressed the most was one who had flown under the radar for me during the preseason: Notre Dame.

The Irish decimated Marquette on the road in Friday’s season premiere, winning by a 19-4 margin. Then on Sunday at home, Notre Dame beat Canisius — typically a strong contender in the MAAC — by an even more convincing 21-4 score.

The Irish showed glimpses of excellence in 2018, including games played to within two goals against both Boston College and North Carolina, but they also were horribly inconsistent (losing to Albany and High Point), as they ultimately missed the NCAA Tournament. Over the opening weekend, senior Samantha Lynch scored 11 goals in two games. Lynch missed almost all of last year with injury, so it was a positive sign to see her return so effectively.

Notre Dame is back on the women’s college lacrosse radar. The Irish have a weak non-conference schedule before a grueling ACC skit where we’ll see what they’re really worth.

Northwestern and Florida shine in openers

Outside of ACC play a pair of other perennial powers demonstrated their worth in convincing first-weekend wins.

Northwestern forced the very fastest running clock of the weekend against Louisville, going up by a score of 12-2 just 12 minutes and 5 seconds into the game. The Wildcats eased off the gas pedal from there, but not before star Selena Lasota buried five goals and a total of 10 different NU players scored. Remember, this is a team who scored 45 goals in just two games in the NCAA Tournament opening weekend last May.

Northwestern will have plenty of opportunity to show how good they are this season, as they’ll play all three of the consensus best teams in the country: Boston College, North Carolina and Maryland. They play their Big Ten schedule, but also almost an entire ACC schedule, with contests against six of the eight teams in that league.

Out west and a mile-high, the bitter weather didn’t seem to bother Florida, as the Gators started their 2019 season with a crushing 16-9 win over the Colorado Buffaloes. The two Sunshine State stars, Lindsey Ronbeck and Shannon Kavanagh, combined for nine goals.

Florida has a critical litmus test at home Thursday, when they’ll face the juggernaut Maryland Terrapins.

Other notes from the weekend

  • Maryland had a fast start to its 2019 campaign with a sturdy 16-5 win over George Mason. Canisius transfer Erica Evans notched two goals and two assists in her debut with the Turtle, while Jen Giles had a career-best five scores. In typical Terrapins fashion, Maryland had 10 free-position opportunities to George Mason’s zero. An announced crowd of 2,105 was on hand to watch the game.
  • Five teams are already 2-0 this season: Notre Dame, Denver, East Carolina, Ohio State, and Michigan.
  • If you’re looking for a breakout performer, head to New Jersey. Rutgers sophomore Taralyn Naslonski opened her season with a 10-point game against LIU-Brooklyn. She scored seven goals in the Scarlet Knights’ rout and is already a third of the way to her freshman year point total (31).
  • Much has been made of the surgical start to the Penn State men’s lacrosse season, but the women had a dandy of an opener too. The Nittany Lions tamed the Towson Tigers, 13-7 as Madison Carter became the 15th player in program history to reach 200 career points.