April 2, 2013

Sheehan: Inside Penn State's Upset, Wildcats Big Win

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Molly Fernandez and the Penn State offense scored 10 second-half goals against the nation's second-ranked defense on Saturday.
© Craig Houtz

There were a few games across the Division I men's and women's landscape last week that had me thinking I was part of an April Fools' prank. Here's a look back followed by a look ahead to the weekend.

Penn State's upset of Florida

On the women's side, the biggest news was Penn State dominating Florida in the second half to come away with 16-11 victory. After facing a three-goal halftime deficit, Penn State outscored Florida by a 10-2 margin to close the game I was not only shocked that Florida scored a measly two second-half goals, but also that Penn State put up 10 goals in 30 minutes against the second-ranked defense in the country.

In the second half, Florida shot three times to Penn State's 17; the Gators had one ground ball to Penn State's six; and Florida only won two draw controls to Penn State's nine.

As surprising as this outcome was to me, quite honestly this may be the best thing that can happen to the Gators. This game was obviously not a fluke and showed that the Gators are vulnerable and cannot take any opponent lightly.

Florida has just three games left on its regular season schedule before the ALC tournament starts. However, even if they lose the remaining games on their schedule, Florida will still likely make it into the NCAA tournament.

The Gators' senior class came to Florida four years ago with a mission to win a national championship. They have come close to this goal, losing in overtime in last year's national semifinal to Syracuse, but they have unfinished business. This is the time to refocus, regroup and recharge.

Inside Northwestern's win

Meanwhile, Northwestern narrowly escaped Ohio State with a 9-8 win and later in the week topped Syracuse 13-12.

What we have learned from watching Northwestern over the years — and their domination of women's lacrosse, winning seven of the last eight national championships — is that Kelly Amonte Hiller's squads find a way to win.

"They have that belief they are going to win every game, and that is the difference at the end," Syracuse coach Gary Gait said after the game Saturday.

Assessing his own team, Gait said "We made some mental mistakes when we needed to make some big plays. That's how you win and lose these big games."

I thought draw controls were going to be the deciding factor in this game. Though history would indicate that Northwestern's Alyssa Leonard would continue her domination of the draw circle, it was not the case against Syracuse. Syracuse won 18 out of the 27 draws.

More surprising than Syracuse's excellence at the draw circle is the fact that Syracuse's Michelle Tumolo did not register a point, in fact she did not even take a shot.

Once again, the shut down skills of Northwestern's Kerri Harrington were on display, as she took another team's top player out of the game. Tumolo must be having nightmares about Northwestern because she was held to just one goal in the 2012 title game too. Syracuse has nine regular-season games left on its schedule and plenty of time to work out any kinks.

Penn's revival

Things did not look promising for Penn after opening the season 0-3, losing to Drexel, North Carolina and Rutgers.

But the Quakers have gotten in gear and the offense has averaged more than 12 goals per game since. Freshman Iris Williamson has been leading the charge for the Quakers, scoring 21 goals on the season and shooting 57 percent. Williamson scored four goals against Maryland. Any time a freshman scores four goals against the No. 1 team in the country, it is a really impressive feat.

Games to watch

USC at Oregon, 4:30 PT Thursday

I am really looking forward to heading out to Oregon for the first time and covering this game for the Pac-12 Network.

Only four teams make the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation tournament, where the winner receives an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. This game is critical to both programs. Though Oregon was the 2012 MPSF champion, the Ducks have already suffered a loss to San Diego State.

USC coach Lindsay Munday, another former Northwestern standout who has transitioned into coaching, has a young but very talented squad. The edge goes to Oregon because of its experience.

Georgetown at Loyola, Noon ET Saturday

Last year the Greyhounds escaped with 15-14 win in overtime. Loyola's Annie Thomas, Joanna Dalton and Taryn VanThof are all coming off strong performances against UMBC and may have the offense finally pointing in the right direction. However, I see the Hoyas being able to take this match up, with sophomore Caroline Tarzian leading the way.

CBS Sports Network women's lacrosse analyst and 2001 Tewaaraton Award finalist Sheehan Stanwick Burch is providing a column for LaxMagazine.com every Tuesday throughout the Division I women's college season. Follow Sheehan on Twitter @StanwickBurch. She's calling USC-Oregon on Thursday for the Pac-12 Network and is working the Colgate-Lehigh men's game on Saturday for CBS.

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