May 25, 2012

Women's Tewaaraton Finalists Get One More Shot

Tumolo, Dashiell, Schwarzmann, Thornton all in action in semifinals

Michelle Tumolo has grown from a role player to a leader on the field, said Orange head coach Gary Gait.
© Greg Wall

by Clare Lochary |

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- They all have a chance at a title, and at the sport's most prestigious individual trophy. And they'll all be playing at Stony Brook under the Friday night lights.

For the first time since 2005, there's a Tewaaraton Award finalist playing for each of the four teams in the Division I women's lacrosse semifinals. Syracuse's Michelle Tumolo, Florida's Brittany Dashiell, Maryland's Katie Schwarzmann and Northwestern's Taylor Thornton are all juniors, and all are three-year starters. But each of them reached new heights in 2012, and each hopes to lift her respective team to a national championship.

Michelle Tumolo, Syracuse

Tumolo (48g, 41a), a creative shooter, fit into the Orange's innovative offense from the beginning. As a junior, she has emerged as a smarter attacker and a team leader on a young squad.

"We've always believed in her abilities. The real difference for her in taking her game to the next level, something we could work on, talk about, was the mental side of the game," said Syracuse head coach Gary Gait. "Just understanding the game, mental toughness, focus. All the things you need to run an offense, be a leader out there. She was a role player, and opportunistic, and now she's a leader and a go-to, and it's a nice transition for her."

Tumolo never looked better than when she scored the game-winner with five seconds on the clock to defeat North Carolina, 17-16, in the quarterfinals. (She also effectively eliminated Tar Heel Becky Lynch, the only Tewaaraton finalist whose team did not make the final four, from contention for the trophy.) The play was so exciting that she doesn't really remember it.

"I kinda blacked out a little bit, so I had to re-watch the film to see what I did," Tumolo said. "I was so excited that we didn't lose, and that we won, because I really did not want to see my seniors walk out of there without another game."

In practice before Syracuse's semifinal game versus top-seeded Florida, Tumolo was up to her usual stick tricks. She even tried a few Air Gaits. Tumolo can't quite reach over the crossbar, but she can leap high and shoot one-handed well enough to hit the high corner of the goal while catching air. The play is illegal in women's lacrosse, but even an attempt in practice is a testament to Tumolo's indomitable spirit and creativity.

Brittany Dashiell, Florida

Dashiell, by comparison, is less of a show pony and more of a workhorse. The midfielder leads the Gators in caused turnovers (17) and assists (25). She can shoot, too, and is a major contributor on draw controls.

"She's going to do the dirty work," said Florida head coach Mandee O'Leary. "She's going to pick up those ground balls. She's going to get those balls in the air. She's going to run the whole midfield, the entire game."

Dashiell drew her motivation for the 2012 season from Florida's quarterfinal loss to Duke in 2011. While the program is young, Dashiell has high expectations for herself and her team. They revisited the memory of the Duke loss just before this year's quarterfinal game against Penn State.

"We were like, 'We do not want to lose when we're just so close to the final four.' I think we just remembered that, kept that in the back of their minds to make sure it didn't happen again," said Dashiell. She scored three goals and had two assists in the Gators' commanding 15-2 win over the Nittany Lions, landing them a program-first semifinal bid.

Kaite Schwarzmann has become a more versatile midfielder and a concern for Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller: "[She] is just a phenomenal player and we've got to maker sure that we can win those 50-50 battles [with her]."
© Brian Schneider

Katie Schwarzmann, Maryland

Maryland's Schwarzmann had to become a more versatile midfielder last season when teammate (and preseason Player of the Year) Karri Ellen Johnson suffered a season-ending injury. In 2012, she and Johnson are now the veterans of midfield studded with talented but young players. She has risen to the challenge yet again, scoring 69 goals and 22 assists. Schwarzmann has scored 13 points thus far in the tournament, and she contributed on the defensive end in the Terps' quarterfinal win over Loyola, holding Greyhounds leading scorer Marlee Paton to a single assist and no goals. She is one of the fastest players on the field and stopping her in the midfield is a top priority for any opposing coach.

"I think Katie Schwarzmann is just a phenomenal player and we've got to make sure that we can win those 50-50 battles, come up with possessions and really take advantage," said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, whose Wildcats will take on the Terps in Friday's second semifinal (8 p.m.).

Taylor Thornton, Northwestern

If there is a player who can go toe-to-toe with Schwarzmann, it is Northwestern's Thornton. Thornton was the 2011 IWLCA Defender of the Year, and is as good between the lines and on defense as anyone in the country. But when Amonte Hiller reimagined her as a two-way midfielder, Thornton had to become more of an offensive threat.

"We're looking for a lot from Taylor. We need her to produce," said Amonte Hiller. "Taylor has improved her offensive ability quite a lot and I think she's doing the same thing defensively, which is very rare, to have a shut-down defender be so explosive offensively."

Thornton's goal total has risen from 14 in 2011 to 30 in 2012. To get there, she worked with teammate (and 2011 Tewaaraton winner) Shannon Smith to improve her stick skills, and took more shooting reps during and after practice. She also spent time in the backyard with her big brother, Blakely, practicing dodges.

"He's a 6-foot-2 guy, a big guy. He played football at Penn, so I just work on dodging him and getting hit by him and getting pressured, so it doesn't really affect me when I get hit throughout the game. Because I've experienced much worse," said Thornton.

It's Up for Grabs

After Friday night, only two of the four teams will still be standing, and only one by Sunday. Winning the national championship is not a requirement for winning the Tewaaraton, but historically a strong championship weekend is key to taking home the trophy. It's up for grabs for any of them.

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