February 26, 2013

Sheehan: David vs. Goliath Brings Out the Best

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

North Carolina and Kara Cannizzaro (two goals, three ground balls, two caused turnovers) upset Northwestern despite losing the draw battle 16-5.
© John Strohsacker/LaxPhotos.com

There are many reasons I love sports, but one of the main reasons is I love the underdog. I've been on my fair share of teams that have gone up against Goliath. So, it's always that much sweeter when David knocks the favorite of its perch. Many times, the only thing that gets you to believe you can win is remembering that, on any given day, the supposed lesser team can pull out the victory. This weekend, we had several examples.

The biggest upset over the last week was unranked Drexel taking down then-No. 11 Penn 11-8 on the Quakers' home turf. Drexel led 5-2 at the half and Penn was never able to catch up. Historically, Penn has been known for its solid defensive play. While the Quakers' offense has not been flashy, they have been able to get the job done. Penn returned 10 starters this season, and almost all of its contributors from the offense of a year ago. The bottom line is Penn needs to be more aggressive offensively. The good news is that they have the experience to do it if they want to rebound with a win over North Carolina on Saturday.

Speaking of UNC, I have to admit that I underestimated them. I called out the Tar Heels' offense in last week's column, and they responded with a decisive 11-8 victory over Northwestern. UNC has been one of the few teams to crack the Northwestern code over the last few years. A couple things stood out for me in this game. UNC was much more efficient in its offense against Northwestern, finishing the game with a 52 percent shooting percentage.

On the Northwestern side, Kelly Amonte Hiller's teams have always performed well on the draw circle and the matchup against UNC was no different, with Northwestern outdrawing UNC 16-5. Alyssa Leonard once again dominated the draw circle, winning 12 of the Northwestern's 16 draw controls. Coach Amonte Hiller has had high praise for Leonard, stating that Leonard is one of the most talented centers she has worked with.

It's rare that a lopsided draw statistic doesn't lead to a victory. However, despite the possession advantage Leonard created, UNC was able to hold Northwestern to just eight goals. Northwestern helped UNC out a bit, going 0-for-4 on its free-position shots. I have a feeling I know what the Cats will be practicing this week. In a game where fouls are called often, it is imperative to take advantage and make the free-position shots count. Often times, it can be the deciding factor in a game. If Northwestern shoots better on its free positions, perhaps they hold off a strong UNC squad.

The good news for a lot of teams is that it is still only February, so there is plenty of time to fix mistakes and fine-tune schemes. However, we typically start to see the major players and contending teams start to assert themselves over the next month.

Right now, in my opinion, Maryland is the hottest team out there. Decisive wins over Syracuse and a 15-6 smackdown of Duke on Sunday are evidence that the Terps are a force to be reckoned with again this season. They are strong in every position, well-coached, and have enough talent to be multi-dimensional on both ends of the field.

Games to watch this week

*All times Eastern

Wednesday — Towson at UMBC, 4 p.m., and Johns Hopkins at Loyola, 7 p.m.

A pair of showdowns in Baltimore, as Towson visits UMBC and Johns Hopkins sprints down the road to Loyola for an evening game. Towson is 0-2 on the season, with losses to UNC and Georgetown. The Tigers need to find some momentum with a win. UMBC is on a two-game winning streak but Towson should have the edge. Tiger goalkeeper Kelsea Donnelly has the ability to be a real difference-maker, coming off an 11-save performance versus Georgetown. Hopkins, meanwhile, has cruised in its first three wins of the season, outscoring their opponents 57-19. Loyola will be the first real test for the Blue Jays.

Friday — Maryland at Virginia, 7 p.m.

Every year, the ACC is a conference up for grabs with teams trading wins back and forth. As I mentioned above, Maryland looks to be the favorite. Virginia is coming off a one-goal loss to a tough Syracuse squad. It doesn't get any easier for the Wahoos, as UVA will have its hands full trying to slow down the Terps. Draw controls will be critical, as will trying to neutralize Katie Schwarzmann.

Saturday — Syracuse vs. Florida, 5 p.m. at Miami

Syracuse goes on the road to face Florida at Sun Life Stadium, home of the NFL's Miami Dolphins, in a rematch of last year's NCAA Tournament semifinals. That game ended in overtime with Syracuse headed to its first national championship game. It's also worth noting that Syracuse beat Florida in overtime earlier in the 2012 season. The Gators are looking for revenge. I have a feeling this will be a shootout and a blast to watch.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch will be providing a column for LaxMagazine.com every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch.

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