WD3 Bracket Breakdown: Top Seed Hasn't Been Friendly
|Kendyl Clarkson (above) and Karen
Shaddock of under the radar Buffalo State are both top 10 in the
nation in points.
© Scott McCall
Thirty-one teams begin play Wednesday with one goal: an NCAA Division III women's lacrosse championship. Salisbury is the top seed and favorite, but in recent years being unbeaten hasn't translated into tournament success -- see 2011: subsection New Jersey, College of. Salisbury likely won't be tested until a potential third round game against Catholic, but there will be some great games before that. TCNJ and Amherst are on a path to meet in the second round, as are Messiah and Colby. Intriguing quarterfinal pairings include TCNJ-Cortland, Trinity-Colby and Middlebury-Gettysburg.
The Top Seed
When the dust settled only one undefeated team remained in Division III, making the Sea Gulls (19-0) the obvious choice to receive the first round bye. But can they do it? Two undefeated teams reached last season's NCAA tournament, and neither played on the tournament's final day. Salisbury seems suited for a long run, starting in its region, where only one ranked team, Catholic, exists a possible quarterfinal hurdle. Salisbury beat Catholic by 10 back in March.
Salisbury has Division III's stingiest defense by a wide margin allowing 4.72 goals against per game, 1.5 less per game than the next best defense, TCNJ. And Salisbury did all this while playing a schedule that featured 11 games against Top 20 opponents. Junior Katie Bollhorst (60 assists, fourth in D-III) leads a balanced attack that has seen nine players top double-digit scoring and seven players with more than 20 goals.
Last Team In
The Bulldogs (16-2) had a fantastic year in their first season under coach Rachel Cibulas, rolling undefeated through their Midwest Lacrosse Conference schedule and earning a Pool B bid to the NCAA tournament. Adrian played three 2012 NCAA tournament teams, losing to Occidental and Fredonia in overtime and defeating Denison, 11-9. Now Denison, the North Coast champ, gets another shot at Adrian in the first round of the NCAAs.
First Team Out
The Crusaders (15-2) were one of the last Division III teams to lose this season, remaining unbeaten until April 14 when they fell to Catholic, 13-9. Catholic ended up defeating Susquehanna again on Saturday to claim the Landmark championship and earning a Pool B bid. Had the Crusaders won one of those games, they'd surely be in but as it stands they lacked that signature win to hang their hat on.
Ithaca (13-4) has some signature wins, the victory over Hamilton last week comes to mind, but the Bombers ultimately missed out because they were upset by St. John Fisher in the Empire Eight championship game. Ithaca had won 10 straight before the St. John Fisher loss. With Stevens also in the league, the Empire Eight was strong enough to send two teams to the NCAAs this year.
Best First-Round Game
St. John Fisher (14-4) at Fredonia (14-4)
A couple of surprising teams from Western New York meet in what should be a highly competitive first round affair. St. John Fisher shook off a mid-March losing streak and has won seven straight and 12 of its past 13. Fredonia has played in close games all year and pushed Cortland to the brink last month, before falling, 7-6. St. John Fisher is very familiar with SUNYAC teams. In March the Cardinals lost to Buffalo State and Oneonta and defeated Geneseo. The winner should enjoy the moment. A trip to Salisbury awaits for the next round.
Seeded Too High
Not so much a slight against Montclair State (13-5), which won the Skyline championship, but a compliment to its opponent, York (14-4). The Spartans had the best season in program history and earned the right to host a first round game. It would have made sense to just flip these two teams.
Seeded Too Low
What's the Blue Jays' reward for handing Messiah its first loss in eight games? A first round matchup against TCNJ. Elizabethtown played a very tough schedule and beating Messiah gives them a signature win. The Blue Jays earned a better fate than a first round trip to Trenton.
Occidental (13-3) vs. Redlands (15-1)
Could the fourth time be the charm for Occidental? Redlands defeated Occidental for the third time, 10-7, in last week's SCIAC championship game. But the Tigers showed improvement; they lost to Redlands by 10 three weeks earlier. Redlands is a fantastic team, but beating anyone four times in one year is tough. Then again Redlands was in Occidental's position last year, 0-3 against Claremont-Mudd-Scripps and staring at a first round matchup against CMS. Redlands ended up losing 19-11.
Three Players to Watch
Lindsay Abbott, Cortland, Sr. M
The senior is third among players in the NCAA tournament in points with 104. The three-time all-american has rewritten Cortland's record book and helped the Red Dragons cement their status as New York's best. She has accomplished nearly every goal a college athlete could have. All that's missing is an NCAA championship.
Lily Nguyen, Middlebury, Sr. G
The senior goalie from California didn't disappoint one year after being IWLCA Keeper of the Year. Nguyen ranks fifth in Division III in goals against average (6.69) and 39th in save percentage (.477) all while playing against NESCAC competition. The Panthers will need Nguyen to be at if they advance to the second round against Montclair St. or York, two Top 50 offenses. Get past that and Gettysburg high-powered attack likely awaits.
Karen Shaddock, Buffalo State, Sr. A
The senior attacker is now second on Division III's all-time scoring list with 441 career points. She set program records this season in goals (96) and points (134) and currently leads Division III in points. Even with all these accolades Shaddock has at times flown under the radar because Buffalo State is often overshadowed in the SUNYAC. No longer. The Bengals earned an at-large bid to reach their first NCAA tournament and will host Springfield. If they advance you can bet Shaddock will be a big reason for it. Throw in classmate Kendyl Clarkson and Buffalo State has two players ranked in the Top 10 for points.
Don't Be Surprised If...
Salisbury bucks the trends and wins it all. In the past two seasons Trinity, TCNJ and Hamilton have all entered the NCAA tournament unbeaten only to watch someone else win it all. In Hamilton's case that someone else was Salisbury. The Sea Gulls are battle-tested, have championship experience and possess the easiest route to the final four of any top team. Any number of teams, Gettysburg, Cortland, TCNJ, a NESCAC member, could thwart Salisbury's plans, but the smart money is on the championships returning to Maryland's Eastern Shore.
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