The road forward in the NCAA Tournament will not be unfamiliar for No. 17/18 women’s lacrosse (11-6 overall, 6-1 Ivy League). Round one of the national competition begins Friday, and Princeton will travel to Charlottesville, Va. to face No. 11/8 Penn State (10-7, 3-3 Big 10). After the Tigers and Lions square off, the king of the jungle will advance to face the weekend’s hosts: No. 15/11 Virginia (10-8, 3-4 ACC).
Rankings are taken from the Brine Women’s Media Poll and the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association polls. However, the NCAA’s Rating Percentage Index has relative primacy in tournament seeding. Virginia, thus, based on both its record and strength of schedule, earned home field advantage over two teams with inferior conference records.
Both of these opponents featured on Princeton’s schedule earlier this year. The Class of 1952 Stadium hosted Virginia on March 15. A convincing 15-13 win for the home side propelled head coach Chris Sailers’ Tigers into a six-game winning streak.
On April 26, Princeton played its regular season finale at University Park, Pa. against Penn State’s Nittany Lions. The hosts held a lead throughout, pulling away in the first half of the second period. The final eight minutes of play saw Princeton score five unanswered goals, but the effort came too little, too late for the Orange and Black. When the clock struck zero the score was 13-12 to Penn State.
This three-team mini-tournament in Charlottesville is an embodiment of parity, in fact. On March 1, Penn State travelled to Virginia and left with a 12-11 loss, which saw a late three-goal run fall short.
A side-by-side comparison of stats shows that the Lions and Tigers have outscored opponents by about three goals per game. The Cavaliers, who compete in the nation’s top conference, have a per-game advantage of just less than two.
Princeton boasts a number of stars on offense, brightest of which is junior attacker Erin McMunn. The unanimous All-Ivy selection paces the team in points and uses a combination of speed and refined positional awareness to beat opposing keepers. Her linemates include, in order of point totals, freshman Olivia Hompe, sophomore Alexandra Bruno and senior Mary-Kate Sivilli. The unit has developed a strong understanding throughout the season, which allows them to score a high percentage of assisted goals.
The Tiger midfield locates its leader in senior captain Sarah Lloyd. A force on offense, defense, ground balls and draw controls, Lloyd received 2014’s Ivy Midfielder of the Year honors. Alongside her, junior Erin Slifer, sophomore Anya Gersoff and freshman Anna Doherty have made substantial contributions. All four of the midfield core have scored 20-plus goals on the season.
Senior captain and defender Colleen Smith, looked to as her team’s vocal and inspirational leader, has played her last for Princeton. Smith suffered a left leg injury in the first play of Ivy League semifinals which sidelined her for the conference tournament and the rest of the season. Her fellow starters sophomore Liz Bannantine and freshman Madeline Rodriguez will have a tough time replacing the defensive prowess of their leader. However, Coach Sailer reiterated that her team would rise above this challenge. In Smith’s absence, the Tigers wrote her No. 35 on their wrists for last week’s game against Penn.
Penn State will be no trivial opponent for Princeton. It clears the ball at a very high rate of 89.9 percent, while holding opponents to an 80.3 percent success rate. Additionally, the tally of 96 assists indicates an offense which works well off-ball. Forty-eight of those chances come from the attack duo of Maggie McCormick and Mackenzie Cyr. The former Lion had three assists against Princeton earlier this year, while the latter had three goals and three assists for a game-high six points.
Should the Tigers advance past their State College rivals, they will face another test from the Cavaliers. Tewaaraton watch list member Courtney Swan has racked up 49 goals and 24 assists in a team-leading effort. The prolific attacker had limited success against the Princeton defense earlier this year. However, she will likely be hungry for revenge, and this time on her home turf.
Swan’s linemate Liza Blue has tallied 50 goals in her fourth-year effort. After those two standouts, however, there’s a drop-off on the Virginia statistics sheet. It will be imperative that the Tigers establish an aggressive tone on defense against these two Cavalier stars.
Class of 1952 Stadium’s Sherrerd Field hosted the Ivy League Tournament last weekend, an honor awarded due to Princeton’s league-best conference record. Despite a first-round rout of Cornell which Coach Sailer called “one of the best, if not the best” of the team’s season, the Tigers could not quite get it going against Ivy rival Penn. The Quakers emerged from the weekend with the postseason title following a 9-6 victory.
Further down the bracket, Princeton, an at-large selection for the tournament, could be looking at a run-in with ACC-powerhouse UNC. The Tar Heels are ranked fourth in both media and coaches’ polls.