May 13, 2014

BC on the Brink

One-time ACC laughingstock now one step away from NCAA final four

All-American Covie Stanwick had had eight goals and four assists combined in Boston College's first- and second-round wins over Bryant and Loyola, respectively. They were the first two NCAA tournament victories in program history.

by Justin Feil | | May Madness

Covie Stanwick could have played for more established college women's lacrosse teams, but she knew she could change the game at Boston College the way her sisters did at Georgetown. Three years into the rebuilding project that brought the highly coveted Stanwick and Mikaela Rix to Chestnut Hill, the fast-ascending Eagles no longer need to fantasize about making the NCAA tournament or belonging in the same breath as their ACC brethren.

They're here.

After defeating Bryant and Loyola in the first and second rounds of the NCAA tournament, the seventh-seeded Eagles will play second-seeded Syracuse in the quarterfinals with a final four berth on the line. Boston College had never won an NCAA tournament game before this season.

"We're definitely moving in the right direction," Stanwick said. "It's awesome. It's a great feeling. It's great to be a part of the program that's making strides."

Stanwick spent her freshman year adjusting to college lacrosse and became Boston College's first ACC Rookie of the Year in 2012. But the Eagles, who qualified for their first NCAA tournament the previous year, could not sustain the momentum and stumbled to a 10-8 finish that led to the decision not to retain coach Bowen Holden, who after seven seasons at the helm was replaced by assistant Acacia Walker.

"It was pretty seamless," Stanwick said. "She didn't change too much. She didn't come in and change everything about it. She saw what we were and who we were and came in and put her spin on it. Sometimes it can be difficult to change. Acacia came in and made it easy on everybody."

It helped that Walker inherited Stanwick and Rix.

"They're incredible," Walker said. "They're just incredibly dominant. They bring their game every single day. I know the best part about them is that they make everyone else around them pretty good."

Before 2010, Boston College had just one All-American in its history. Six different players have earned All-American honors in the last four years. The culture started to change under Holden, who had two 12-win seasons. But the Eagles still had not won more than two ACC games in a year and had only the one-and-done 2011 NCAA tournament appearance —they lost to eventual champion Northwestern in the first round — to show for the progress.

"When I became the head coach, I looked at the experiences I had as a player and what brought me the most happiness playing," said Walker, who played at Maryland and for Team USA and coached as an assistant at Northwestern and UMass. "That alone allows players to feel good, so they can get better and compete. I brought in some visualization and meditation that we used at Maryland. I tried to bring the loose but competitive atmosphere at practice. That's what always made Maryland special. Practices were loose and fun, but you were always learning and competing."

The original version of this story appears in the current edition of Lacrosse Magazine, featuring Boston College standout Mikaela Rix on the cover.

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"There are different coaching philosophies that work," Walker added. "I immediately implemented what I felt was successful. The girls make everything come to life."

Boston College has always been at the bottom of the ACC and before that, the Big East.

In five years in the Big East, Boston College never won more than two conference games.

The same held true in the ACC until last year, when the Eagles beat Virginia Tech, Virginia and Duke, the last two in back-to-back games during a 12-8 season that yielded their second NCAA tournament appearance. They lost to Dartmouth in the first round.

"Acacia delivers the message we don't want to be a team on the rise anymore, we want to be a team on the map," Stanwick said. "We're working hard to do that."

Has Boston College arrived? It's tough to tell in a dog-eat-dog conference that became especially stacked with the additions of Notre Dame and Syracuse. The Eagles opened the season by upsetting the Irish 15-10 in South Bend, but fell short in losses to Syracuse (11-9), defending NCAA champion North Carolina (14-13) and Maryland (10-9)—the top three teams in Division I and the ACC.

Boston College came closer than anyone to knocking off North Carolina and Maryland in the first two months of the season. Both games went down to the wire.

"In years past, we would have crumbled," Walker said.

Stanwick headlines an experienced group that returned largely intact from last year. Rix and Sarah Mannelly are dynamic forces out of the midfield, while Stanwick orchestrates the rest of the of the Eagles offense, which averaged nearly 13 goals per game through March.

"The next measurable step is to knock off one of the top teams," Walker said. "Getting close is not what our goal is. We want to win."

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