May 26, 2011

KEJ Likely Out for NCAA Women's Final Four

by Clare Lochary |

Maryland coach Cathy Reese did not sound optimistic that Karri Ellen Johnson (concussion) would be able to return in time for this weekend's NCAA women's lacrosse championships. The Terps meet Duke in a semifinal Friday.

© Greg Shemitz

Update: Big Ten Network Antes Up, Puts NCAAs on TV

Karri Ellen Johnson's health status and harsh words for the NCAA's no-TV deal were hot topics Tuesday during the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship media conference call.

The four coaches of the semifinal teams (Duke's Kerstin Kimel, Maryland's Cathy Reese, North Carolina's Jenny Levy and Northwestern's Kelly Amonte Hiller) subjected themselves to a firing squad of questions from the media. Here are the highlights.

1. No KEJ for the Terps. Junior midfielder Karri Ellen Johnson, out with a concussion since late March, is unlikely to play in either game this weekend. Technically she's day-to-day, but Reese sounded distinctly unhopeful about her chances.

2. The IWCLA is irate that NCAA did not find a TV home for championship weekend. Said Kimel: "I can't begin to tell you, just to express how disappointed I am that in 2011, after 2010 where I believe we set an all-time attendance record. (The 2010 women's lacrosse Division I championship weekend did set an attendance record with 18,544 attendees. It outdrew similar events for both women's and men's soccer, both of which had championship broadcasts on ESPN.) And I've been involved with women's lacrosse at this level for 20-plus years -- how can we set an attendance record one year and then be taken off the air the next? I just -- in 2011, that's really hard for me to believe... And just to put out there, we were not made aware of this as a coaching body until December, and we were at our coaches meetings and the NCAA came could've heard a pin drop when they told us that. It was as if it was no big deal and as if we knew and we had no idea... I just think our game is at such a great place in terms of the parity and the quality of play on the field that it's a sin that we're not going to be on TV this coming weekend."

3. Draws will be key this weekend. Florida likes to score on the fast break off the draw, and the Blue Devils were able to stop that in their 13-9 quarterfinal win over the Gators. They hope to do the same against the Terps. Brandi Jones has stepped up in the absence of KEJ, but Maryland has been a little uneven on the draw. Expect to see Laura Merrifield (6'1") in the mix more versus Duke's Emma Hamm (5'9")... North Carolina has gotten worked by Northwestern on the draw in two straight postseason matchups, but the Tar Heels have learned from it. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. Said Levy: "Northwestern I think set the standard for the draw. They were the first program in the country to really work on it and have a plan, so to speak. And so we've all taken what they've done and we've expanded on it as well." Corey Dohonoe (56) and Becky Lynch (43) lead the Tar Heels in draw controls, with some support from Laura Zimmerman and Kara Cannizzaro, and more recently freshman Margaret Corzel.

4. Maryland seriously gives no thought to having a target on its back as the defending champ. Said Reese: "To be honest, that's something that we haven't talked about and we haven't thought about all year." Now, of course, no coach is going say, "We're barely keeping it together under all this pressure. I long for our lost innocence of last season, when we were so carefree and unburdened by expectations and past success." But believe Reese on this one. The Terps' mood in the quarterfinal win against Princeton was remarkably light, and somehow Reese and her staff have conjured an atmosphere of fun and positivity. It's a lovely thing to see at such a high level of the game, especially when you see so many coaches overburdening prep and even youth players with the importance of winning.

5. Northwestern's 8-7 OT win over UNC back in February doesn't mean much. Both Levy and Amonte Hiller dismissed the importance of that game and said their teams had changed a lot since then. Perhaps the biggest adjustment was Northwestern's choice to move freshman Alyssa Leonard and sophomore Taylor Thornton (who got the game-winner) from midfield to defense. North Carolina shifted to a more team-oriented offense, with lots of pretty passing and smart cuts, and away from the one-on-one approach that it had early in the season.

6. Corey Donohoe is a boss. She's broken all of UNC scoring records and Levy was "disappointed" she was not a Tewaaraton finalist. Amonte Hiller called her a "tremendous" player, although she added that Lynch and Zimmerman were threats as well. Donohoe had no points and two shots in the regular season game, so certainly she'll have extra motivation to reassert herself against the Wildcats (the alma mater of her sister Casey, whom she met and lost to in the 2008 final).

7. The ACC rules. With three out of the four semifinal teams coming from the Atlantic Coast Conference, it's clear that while parity is on the rise, the traditional powers endure. Said Kimel: "You have a conference full of institutions...that are very committed to the sport. You can see that paralleled on the men's side as well, with three men's teams advancing to their respective final four as well.... In the recruiting process, I think the geographic location of our schools is obviously something that's very attractive to the kids. Clearly Maryland has a very long history of tradition and winning in our conference, and I think you've seen Duke and UNC over the last 16 years establish themselves as traditional powers as well. So I think there's a lot of factors. But at the end of the day I think kids want to play in the best conference. And so is it a surprise that there are three teams that have made it to the final four? I don't think it's a big surprise..." Amonte Hiller, a Maryland alum whose Wildcats play in the American Lacrosse Conference, said she had "a lot of respect " for ACC teams. Asked if she and Denver men's coach, Bill Tierney, the lone non-ACC guy in the men's Division I final four, were exchanging mean text messages about the ACC, she laughed and said no.

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