It’s that time of year: May Madness, a month of postseason women’s college lacrosse. Northwestern is seeded second in the NCAA Tournament, earning a bye in the first round. The 'Cats only suffered two losses this season, to third-seeded North Carolina and fifth-seeded Florida.
After Northwestern came roaring back against the Gators to win the ALC title this week, the stage is set for another national championship run. Despite not entering as the top seed, as head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller likes to say, it’s anyone’s game.
Here’s Northwestern’s stiffest competition in the bracket:
Maryland (No. 1)
The undefeated 19-0 Terps clearly earned the top spot. During the course of the regular season, Maryland knocked off a significant number of opponents currently in the playoffs, including two of the top six ranked teams, Syracuse and North Carolina.
Maryland outscored its opponents 294-158 this season, led by senior attacker Alex Aust, who has 60 goals. Even with freshmen making up a majority of the team, Maryland still boasts seven seniors, all of whom were on the team for its 2010 championship run, the only time in the last eight seasons Northwestern made it to the NCAA finals and lost. Maryland has the experience and firepower to potentially win the whole thing and upend Northwestern as national champs.
North Carolina (No. 3)
North Carolina was the first team to beat Northwestern in 2013. In a Feb. 22 game, the Cats allowed UNC to jump out to an early 7-4 start in the first half. Though they tried to make a respectable comeback, the Wildcats couldn’t quite overcome the first-half hole, losing 11-8.
North Carolina is one of those high-quality, high-powered teams that Northwestern has a tough time defending and maintaining possession. Often tripping over their own mistakes, like committing 14 turnovers in the February game, the Cats have a hard time playing to their own strengths.
Going 13-2 in the regular season, North Carolina has won its games by convincing margins, only losing to Florida and Maryland. Not only have the Tar Heels played and beaten Northwestern, they’ve also defeated many of the same teams as Northwestern, too, leaving these two powerhouse teams very evenly matched.
Syracuse (No. 4)
Coming off its victory in the Big East title game and a 16-3 regular season, Syracuse is poised to make some noise in the NCAA Tournament. Its only losses have come against Maryland, Florida and Northwestern, a common theme among these top-tier teams. In a rematch of last year’s NCAA finals, Northwestern outlasted Syracuse 13-12 back on March 30 behind five Ali Cassera goals. As it has in many of its close games this season, Northwestern played from behind for most of the game before pulling away at the end.
This season, the Orange have outscored their opponents 288-160 and sophomore goalie Kelsey Richardson has recorded 64 saves. Syracuse, as last year’s NCAA Tournament runner-up, proves to have the experience and endurance to get to the final round again.
Florida (No. 5)
It’s practically a given that a Northwestern-Florida matchup would be a hard-fought shootout. The first time these two rivals met this season, it ended badly for the 'Cats: an embarrassing 22-4 loss on Apr. 20. The second time, in the ALC Championship game this past week, Northwestern put up more of a fight, winning 8-3 and playing much tougher defense. The winner of a potential third meeting is anyone’s guess.
That third meeting could only happen if both teams win their first round games to advance to the quarterfinals. Over the past few seasons, Florida has had Northwestern’s number and has taken full advantage. But Northwestern has also proven it can overcome Florida’s fast-paced, 285 goal-scoring offense.
In the first half alone, the Gators outscored opposing teams 171-59, meaning they score early and often. If the tournament plays host to another Northwestern-Florida game, it may very well be the most exciting game of the season.
Penn State (No. 7)
Penn State is another familiar face for Northwestern, which saw the Nittany Lions twice during the season. The first game was a cakewalk: Northwestern won easily 11-3. The second game came in the ALC Tournament and was not as one-sided. In the quarterfinals of the conference tourney, the game went into overtime, where an Amanda Macaluso goal sent the Cats to the championship game.
Northwestern allowed Penn State to reclaim lost ground in the second half. If Northwestern faces Penn State again in the tournament, it will have to maintain a strong defensive front to prevent sophomore attacker Maggie McCormick and sophomore midfielder Kelly Lechner from combining for a two-pronged attack. The pair has scored 84 goals this season. While Penn State shouldn’t be too much of a problem for Northwestern, the Wildcats shouldn’t forget their near-loss.
A relatively unknown program in the Midwest, Stony Brook is making waves in the NCAA. Senior midfielder Demmianne Cook leads the league in goals per game with 4.78. Its offense is ranked second in the country in scoring, while its scoring defense is best in the nation. And even though they don’t have a first round bye like the other league leaders, Stony Brook has only two losses on the season, to Maryland and Florida.
Much like Northwestern, North Carolina and Syrcause, Stony Brook plays hard against quality teams and wins handily against the teams it should beat. The Stony Brook Sea Wolves may be a sleeper pick, but don’t count them out.