NCAA women's lacrosse tournament: Top teams still standing in final four

Courtesy of UNC Athletic Communications

For the second straight year, North Carolina has a shot at the third NCAA women's lacrosse title in school history.

We already know the NCAA women's lacrosse national championship will pit the Big Ten vs. the ACC.

We'll find out exactly what teams will be playing for the title with Friday's national semifinals that start with second-seeded Boston College (20-1) facing third-seeded North Carolina (17-3) at 5 p.m. on ESPN3 and ESPNews. The late game features No. 1 Maryland (20-1) vs. No. 4 Northwestern (16-4) at 7:30 p.m., also on ESPN3 and ESPNews.

Maryland won the regular season in the Big Ten, and Northwestern nabbed the conference tournament. Boston College won the regular season in the ACC, and North Carolina took the tournament title.

Sunday's national championship will be at noon on ESPNU. All games are at John Hopkins University's Homewood Field in Baltimore.

Here are five things you should know about the weekend lacrosse games.

Queens of the sport

Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

Cathy Reese is the all-time winningest coach in Maryland women's lacrosse history and has led the Terrapins to four national championships.

Maryland is the UConn women's basketball of women's lacrosse. The Terrapins will play in their 11th consecutive final four and 27th in program history, the most in women's lacrosse. Other Terrapin notables: Their streak of 30 straight tournament appearances is the longest run in the country. No team has been to more championship games (21), and they've won the most national titles. Thirteen of them are NCAA championships, and one, from 1981, is an AIAW title. UConn women's basketball, by the way, has a record 11 NCAA titles.

Cathy Reese's coaching mark of 268-22, a .924 winning percentage, includes four NCAA championships. No lacrosse coach at Maryland has won more games than Reese. This season, she was rewarded with her own ice cream flavor at the Maryland Dairy located inside the Stamp Student Union. A scoop of Cathy Reese's "Victory Swirl" combines vanilla ice cream with Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Reese's Pieces and a chocolate fudge swirl.

Third time's a charm?

Each national semifinal is a rematch of conference championships games, both of which resulted in upsets. And how's this for symmetry? In both instances, the higher seed lost not just the game but also a chance at a perfect season.

Boston College won its first 19 games before being upset by North Carolina. The Tar Heels also played spoiler to the Eagles last year in the ACC championship, halting Boston College's unblemished record. Northwestern stunned a Maryland team that was 18-0 to win the Big Ten tournament.

Both Maryland and Boston College won the regular-season meetings with their respective opponents.

The Terrapins outlasted the Wildcats 17-13 at Northwestern on April 11 after surviving a weather delay and a venue change. With the scored tied at 12, the teams moved indoors to finish the contest due to lightning. Northwestern then won the Big Ten title game 16-11, handing the top seeds only their second loss ever in conference play. Maryland joined the Big Ten for lacrosse in 2015 and had been beaten in conference only once by Ohio State.

Likewise, Boston College rolled over North Carolina in Chapel Hill 14-8 on March 23. The Eagles, who have never won a national title in lacrosse, have advanced to the past two title games.

You'll see all the stars

The sport's best players will take the field at the women's final four, including reigning Tewaaraton Award winner Sam Apuzzo. The Boston College senior, whose goal in last year's semifinal victory over Maryland went viral, was selected first overall in the 2019 Women's Professional Lacrosse League draft. The West Babylon, New York, native will graduate as the program's all-time leader in goals, draws and points.

Andy Mead/Northwestern Athletics

Northwestern's offense is powered by Selena Lasota, whose 284 goals are the most among active college players.

Kenzie Kent, Boston College's other 100-point scorer, juggled lacrosse with ice hockey for three seasons but returned as a graduate student for one final year to focus solely on lacrosse. In 2017, the last time she played in this event, Kent was named Most Outstanding Player, despite the Eagles' not winning the championship. She was a marvel to watch in that final four, amassing a tournament-record 37 points in four games.

While Apuzzo and Kent are the headliners for the Eagles, Dempsey Arsenault, whom coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein touts as "the most superior athlete I've ever coached," is the most consistent threat on both sides of the field. The ACC Midfielder of the Year has 57 goals and 23 assists. Arsenault is also one of five Tewaaraton finalists.

North Carolina boasts the only other 100-point scorers in the nation in Jamie Ortega (105 points) and Katie Hoeg (100 points). Ortega is on a tear like no other Tar Heel, setting single-season records for points and goals (76). She was named MVP of the ACC tournament after setting the record for points at that event with 19. Hoeg set the program's assist record in only her second season as a starter.

Speaking of offense, the Wildcats have an engine in Selena Lasota, whose 284 goals are the most among active college players. The Canadian is among the most prolific players in a glorious lacrosse school history that includes seven NCAA titles between 2005 and 2012. Izzy Scane was named Big Ten Freshman of the Year with 52 goals. She recorded four goals and an assist the last time out against Maryland.

Maryland wins behind a stellar senior class that includes senior and Tewaaraton finalist Jen Giles (team-best 76 points) and transfer Erica Evans (team-best 56 goals). Prior to coming to Maryland, Evans, a member of the Canadian national team, graduated from Canisius as that program's all-time scoring leader.

Defensively, the Terps have a gem in Megan Taylor, the second goalie to be named a finalist in the 19-year history of the Tewaaraton Award.

Often when you win or lose, it's the draw

Lacrosse is full of statistics, but perhaps none is as important as which team controls the draw. Similar to the ice hockey faceoff, the draw is taken before each half and after each goal. Players either push or pull in an attempt to control the ball. Unless you have a trained lacrosse eye, it's hard to decipher how a particular team can dominate draw control. What often looks like a crapshoot relies on quick hands and an engaged torso.

The team that controls the draw controls possession, something Northwestern did particularly well in upsetting Maryland in the Big Ten finale. That's when Brennan Dwyer accounted for nine draws, one fewer than the entire Maryland team. The Wildcats finished with 19 draw controls.

The Wildcats rank second nationally in offense, and controlling possession in the circle behind Dwyer is a big reason for that.

"The draw has always been a strength for our program," coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "Brennan has a tremendous demeanor. She never gets rattled. She's very calm and collected, and I think that's what makes her so great."

Apuzzo, clutch at the draw to upset Maryland in last year's national semifinals, continues to improve under the wing of assistant coach Kayla Treanor. The Syracuse graduate is among the top draw control specialists to play the game. Apuzzo ranks fourth nationally in draw controls.

Drop that stick!

If you don't tune in to women's lacrosse regularly, you might wonder what all that showboating after a goal is about. Anytime a player scores a goal, she drops her stick, often emphatically. The rules actually require players to do that so the referees can check for an illegal pocket. Lacrosse pockets are allowed to be only a certain depth, and affecting that depth by literally pulling strings makes it an illegal stick, which would nullify a goal and award possession to the other team.

While it looks like players are in essence "flipping the bat," rules are rules. Granted, some do it with flair. Watch for it this weekend!

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