Women's lacrosse: NCAA 2nd round vs. Albany preview

The No. 2 seed Wildcats square off against No. 7 seed Albany on Saturday in the quarterfinals of the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament, but first here’s a quick blurb on the other spring sports in action this weekend. The women’s tennis preview is here, and baseball and men’s golf are also playing.

This could be the end of the line for the baseball team, as its hopes of making the Big Ten tournament hang by a filament. After losing to Michigan State yesterday, the Wildcats need to win today and tomorrow against the Spartans and hope that both Indiana and Penn State lose their remaining two games. NU sits in eighth place, 1.5 games out of sixth, which is where it needs to be to qualify.

The men’s golf team is in Colorado playing in the NCAA regionals. Yesterday’s first round was suspended because of lightning. NU is seeded 10th out of 13 teams in the regional. Top five qualify to the NCAA championship rounds in Oklahoma beginning May 31.

Now, back to the lacrosse team, which plays Albany at 7 p.m. CT at Lakeside Field, in a game that will be televised live by the Big Ten Network. Tickets are $8 for adults, and students get in for free (and also get a voucher for a free Coke Zero! I love Coke Zero! Sadly, I’m no longer a student.). The forecast for tomorrow is for thunderstorms, which the Wildcats should be used to by now, having played in rainy, windy conditions for a number of their games this year.

Like the Wildcats’ first-round opponent, Boston College, Albany is making its first ever trip to the NCAA tournament. The purple-wearing Great Danes (nice mascot name) are the only undefeated team in the country, at 18-0, though they’ve compiled that record against a somewhat weak schedule. To wit: NU (18-2) has played eight opponents ranked in the top 10; Albany has played zero.

The Wildcats and Great Danes (hmm, that’d be an interesting death match in a zoo in some theoretical country with no animal cruelty laws and where all wounds get magically healed at the end) played three common opponents this year. Against Penn State, NU won 14-5, and Albany won, 8-7. Against Massachusetts, NU won 17-7, Albany won 10-8. And against Boston College, NU won 11-8 last weekend, Albany won 11-10. Take from that what you will.

 

In last week's first round, the Great Danes, champions of the America East conference, went on the road, despite being the higher seed, and defeated Dartmouth, 10-7. Dartmouth is ranked 11th in the country, the biggest win Albany has had this year.

The Great Danes are led offensively by senior Taylor Frink, who has 82 points (34 goals, 49 assists) and leads the NCAA with 2.72 assists per game. Fellow senior Jodi Battaglia leads the team in goals with 54 (27 of them coming off of assists from Frink). Freshman goalkeeper Anna Berman is second in the country in goals against average, allowing just 6.82 per game, and senior Nikki Branchini has 92 draw controls.

As a team, Albany ranks leads the nation in defense, allowing just 6.71 goals per game, and is 13th in offense, scoring 13.76 per game. Those stats will be hard to hold up against battle-tested Northwestern, which is 10th in offense, scoring 14.21 per game and 12th in defense, allowing 8.84 goals per game.

The Wildcats will be led, as always, by junior Shannon Smith, who earlier this week was named a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist. Smith has scored five goals in three straight games and leads the nation in points, with 113 (73 goals, 40 assists), good for 5.65 points per game. Nobody is within .5 ppg of her. Meanwhile, freshman Alyssa Leonard (79 draw controls) and junior Alex Frank (63 draw controls) will try to contain Branchini in the circle.

The Wildcats have been sloppy several times this season, falling behind and having to come back and win. Last week's win over Boston College was another example. The Wildcats trailed 8-5 about midway through the second half, before getting it together late for the 11-8 win. Albany reportedly plays a very disciplined, deliberate style, so NU will have to clean up its game and be more efficient on offense. 

As for the rest of the bracket, No. 1 Maryland takes on Princeton, No. 4 Florida hosts No. 5 Duke, and No. 3 North Carolina faces No. 6 Loyola. All games are on Saturday. The Final Four is in Stony Brook, N.Y. on May 27 and 29.

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