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LAX Playoffs: What to Look for in This Weekend’s Matchups

May 14, 2009 – 9:45 PM

By Lauren Taylor

Lauren Taylor of Yale evades a Princeton pursuit in 2005. Now Princeton's in the playoffs and Taylor is making her picks.

Round one of the women’s NCAA Division 1 lacrosse tournament offered zero upsets, but expect excitement this weekend when top teams meet in the quarterfinals (championships next weekend at Towson University in Maryland).

This is college sports — and anything can happen.

Breaking it down:

Number one seed Northwestern wants to repeat (they’re national champs four years running).  Under Kelly Amonte Hiller, the Wildcats get credit for revolutionizing the women’s game. Coach Hiller recruits pure athletes and molds them into cogs in the well-oiled machine that is her Northwestern dynasty.  Every year the Cats lose seemingly irreplaceable leaders, but young guns step up and file seamlessly into the lineup. Do note, though, highly-touted player Hannah Nielsen suffered a knee injury a few weeks ago. Bottom line: The balance of this team is tough to beat.

Northwestern will face perennial power, Princeton. Princeton, which long sat atop the Ivy League, is lately coming in second behind rival Penn.  The difference between the two programs? Princeton plays a more emotional, flow-state game. They’ll go up, they’ll go down, but it’s always interesting. Holly McGarvie (Sr., Midfield) is the team’s heart and soul, and her intensity serves as a barometer for the play of the entire Princeton squad.

Conversely, the Penn Quakers play a more deliberate and methodical game. Nothing about them is particularly special, but everything is rock solid. Penn dropped a surprise game to Stanford towards the end of the regular season, but that may have been the loss they needed to refocus for the NCAA Tournament. Their first round game with MAAC Champs Fairfield was closer than most expected (10-8), but a win is a win — and they got it. This is a team that has grown accustomed to winning, and that’s provided a real mental advantage.

Duke, North Carolina and Maryland are the three ACC teams still standing. No surprises there: these are classic women’s lacrosse powerhouses.  All three programs are built on the backs of blue chip recruits and long-tenured coaches. The three all play some variation on a “run and gun” game. They’ll push fast breaks, take a lot of shots, make a lot of mistakes, but hopefully win on the merit of players’ speed, stick work, and natural intuition. There’s little pre-conceived about game plans, so they live and die by the decision-making on the field. Sometimes that leadership comes through and they win big. Other times they fold unexpectedly under pressure.

Syracuse and Notre Dame are the two Big East teams rounding out the quarterfinal bracket.  Each has been making noise the past few years — Syracuse under the esteemed Gary Gait and Notre Dame under Tracy Coyne.  The Syracuse-Maryland matchup will be particularly interesting because Coach Gait arrived at Syracuse after a long stint as an assistant at Maryland (under Cindy Timchal). He knows the Maryland game plan well (he helped engineer it in the 1990s and early 2000s). Think of this game as a contest of old and new Gary Gait philosophies.  Maryland has more talent, but Gait is a genius. He knows the Terrapins can be fragile under pressure and will coach his Orange to push all the right buttons.

Notre Dame’s matchup with North Carolina is the biggest question mark of the bracket. Notre Dame’s potent attack lead by Jillian Byers (Sr., Midfield) will have a tough go against a Tarheels defense lead by Amber Falcone (Sr., Defense). Byers is as good as attackers come, but Falcone has seen it all playing a tough ACC schedule for the past four years. Both are Tewaaraton Trophy (lacrosse’s Heisman) finalists, and the two will play on USA national teams (Amber, World Cup Team and Jillian, Developmental team) this summer.

My picks for the final four: Northwestern, Penn, UNC, Maryland.

Lauren Taylor, who will receive her Master’s in Public Health from Yale this month, is assistant coach for the Yale Women’s Lacrosse team. As a player for Yale, she earned three All-America selections and was a four-time first team All-Ivy League selection.

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