April 26, 2011

Sheehan: One Signature Win Won't Cut It

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Shaylyn Blaney and Notre Dame need to make their "signature" win over Georgetown stick with a strong finish in the Big East, but the victory over the Hoyas may have been a turning point, writes Sheehan Stanwick Burch.

© TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

It finally felt like "lacrosse weather" this weekend in Baltimore. So I was very surprised to learn that some teams have already played their final game of the season. Virginia Tech's loss in the ACC tournament last week was likely its final game of the year, and it was only April 21. It makes me wonder why more and more programs start their seasons so early in mid-February only to finish play before spring really sets in.

Nevertheless, May is fast approaching. Even though the NCAA tournament is right around the corner, it is still extremely difficult to gauge how all the pieces of the puzzle will fit together for the field of 16. In years past, the teams that were able to notch a "signature win" seemed to have the upper hand when it came to who was awarded an at-large bid.

Hopkins and Florida have knocked off Northwestern. Princeton finally took down Ivy League power Penn, ending the Quakers' 34-game Ivy League winning streak. Georgetown upset Loyola and secured a spot in the Big East tournament, but then itself got upset by Notre Dame. Boston College defeated Virginia earlier this season.

Towson, despite starting slowly, turned things around by winning nine of the last 11 games. The Tigers got their signature win over James Madison, and will host the CAA tournament at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

Albany, which is undefeated and now ranked in the top 10, was unranked in the preseason polls. However, the Great turned heads when they knocked off Penn State and Boston University, both of whom were nationally ranked to start the season.

Notre Dame head coach Tracy Coyne had said it seemed every team in Division I has registered a big win except for the Irish. Well, the wait is over. On Saturday in South Bend, Notre Dame finally saw the fruits of its labors, garnered its signature win and kept its postseason aspirations alive by pulling out a 13-10 victory over Georgetown.

This win could not have come at a better time for the Irish. Although they have a lot of talent, they have not played to their potential. They have had a tough season and so far have been unable to string together two wins in a row. The Irish also have losses to multiple unranked teams, Cornell and Hofstra among them.

Despite having six more turnovers than the Hoyas and losing the ground ball and draw control battles, Irish goal keeper Ellie Hilling (14 saves) and some sharp shooting (48 percent) lifted Notre Dame to its first win against a ranked opponent in 2011.

Sometimes all a team needs is a good win to gain back some confidence and renew its spirits. Could this be the turning point for the Irish? We will find out this weekend, as the Irish have road games at Louisville and Cincinnati.

This year, however, teams may need a bit more than one signature win to get into the dance. How does Georgetown beat No. 6 Loyola last week and then get outplayed by unranked Notre Dame? How does Johns Hopkins finally beat Northwestern and then lose to Penn State?

The key is making that signature win turn into something more than just a fluke.

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