February 12, 2013

Sheehan: Early-Season WD1 Matchups to Watch

Editor's note: CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing weekly commentary for LaxMagazine.com throughout the Division I women's college season. This is her first column of 2013.

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Virginia travels to Baltimore to play Loyola in one of several intriguing February matchups in NCAA Division I women's lacrosse.
© Matt Riley

I've been covering lacrosse for the past 12 seasons and have come to the realization — finally — that I need to get over the fact the season now starts in the winter. Syracuse played its first game on Jan. 13, which is insane except that it played in Jacksonville, Fla. I'm not going to balk at playing in Florida, anytime.

A slew of teams in Division I began their seasons over the weekend right in the middle of a historic blizzard in the Northeast. I don't understand why there is such a push to start the season earlier, but I'm over it... At least, I thought was, until I found myself standing in a freezing cold rain watching the Johns Hopkins men take on Siena on Friday night. I quickly decided that the rest of the game would be much more enjoyable on DVR from my couch, sorry guys.

What I took away from the Hopkins game was an appreciation for some of the new men's rules. Although Hopkins shot a tough 15-for-58, the pace of the game was excellent.

I am hoping that the 2013 women's season brings back the fast pace of play and less of the "stall-ball" strategy we've unfortunately seen in the past few years.

A look back at the weekend

Florida at North Carolina

These two teams have had some battles in previous years, with the two games before this year each decided by a goal. Historically, Carolina has managed to come up on the winning side in the series; however, Florida got the monkey off its back and managed to beat the Tar Heels, 5-3, as well as earn its first-ever victory when trailing at the half.

Though this is technically not an upset, this is still a major win for Florida. The Gators have lived up to all the hype, coming off their most successful season in program history last year. The senior class is battle tested and proven. Will this be the year Florida can put it all together?

UNC always produces fast and athletic teams. This year will be no different. When the Tar Heels are at their best, they are intimidating, strong and super talented. The most obvious holes to fill are on the offensive end, with the graduation of Laura Zimmerman and Becky Lynch. The six yellow cards issued to UNC in this game are troubling, as is shooting 3-for-20.

Games to watch in February

Virginia at Loyola, 1 p.m. Saturday

This may be UVA's year to get back to the final four under coach Julie Myers. The Cavaliers have a healthy dose of transfers, led by Casey Bocklet. On the other side of the matchup, Loyola found some magic last year, capturing the Big East title. The Greyhounds return many of their stars, like Marlee Paton and Annie Thomas. Loyola will need to fill the voids on defense left by Kellye Gallagher and Ana Heneberry. Time will only tell how the Hounds will adjust with a new goalie.

Maryland at Syracuse, 1 p.m. Sunday

The Maryland at Syracuse game is an obvious choice for an early-season critical duel. These teams match up incredibly well against each other, and I love seeing two of the best coaching brains in the game battle in Cathy Reese and Gary Gait.

Northwestern at North Carolina, 7 p.m. Friday, Feb. 22

I have this game circled mostly because I am interested in the PSS era at Northwestern, a.k.a. the Post-Shannon Smith era. Smith leaves her legacy as the all-time leading goal scorer at Northwestern. The Wildcats have time and time again proven the doubters wrong and dominated on the field after graduating players like Lindsey Munday, Kristen Kjellman and Hannah Nielsen. I have watched Northwestern closely enough to know that Kelly Amonte Hiller's teams find a way to fill the shoes of their graduated superstars. I am confident that the attack will find opportunities to score.

The question mark for me is in the goal. Three-year starter Brianne LoManto graduated, and sophomore Bridget Bianco will take over the reins.

Like Northwestern, UNC also graduated offensive weapons in Zimmerman and Lynch. My biggest concern for UNC is not who will score for them — Abby Friend and Kara Cannizzaro will pick up the slack — but who will be able to feed for them. Veteran Lauren Maksym in cage gives the Tar Heels confidence, but I see Northwestern taking this matchup.

Johns Hopkins at Loyola, 7 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 27

The best news for Johns Hopkins this year was the expansion of the NCAA tournament to 26 teams. The Blue Jays have been on the outside of the bubble looking in since 2007. They only return five starters this year and cannot rely on winning the automatic qualifier from the ALC, which is one of, if not the toughest conference out there. Hopkins must get some marquee wins outside of its conference to get into the tournament, and Baltimore rival Loyola is a top-notch team that will be very successful. Hopkins has a great chance to get a quality win early in the season before Loyola gets into a groove.

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