With the bracket set for this weekend’s NCAA DI Women’s Final Four, let’s get to know the three other teams. While Northwestern’s Friday matchup pits the team against the Denver Pioneers — an unfamiliar foe — the Syracuse Orange and Boston College Eagles are far from strangers.
No. 5 Denver Pioneers (22-0, 6-0 Big East)
Let’s start with the Pios. Led by head coach Liza Kelly, this is Denver’s first appearance in the Final Four. They have had a record-breaking unbeaten season, but the NCAA seeding committee still chose to slot them at No. 5, under North Carolina. Playing with a chip on their shoulder, they took down fourth-seeded UNC in Chapel Hill, 5-4 — after the Tar Heels had gone up 4-1 to begin the game. To hold any team to four goals is outstanding — and it was UNC’s first time being held to under four goals since 2002. That proves why Denver boasts the nation’s leading defense, holding their opponents to an average of 5.82 per game and 128 total. For context, the next closest team is Loyola (MD) with an average of 7.09 goals allowed and 156 total, and the Greyhounds took a beating from the ‘Cats last weekend in Evanston. While those stats may have been slightly inflated by Loyola’s 16-6 loss, for Denver’s nation-leading defense to average more than an entire goal more than the next-closest team speaks to the strength of their defense.
The Pioneers also average 12.73 caused turnovers, good for second-best in the country. On the defensive end, a three-headed monster of Sam Thacker, Bryn McCaughey and Trinity McPherson lead the zone defense. Thacker has tallied 53 caused turnovers and 41 draw controls, while McCaughey and McPherson have collected 38 and 37 caused turnovers, respectively. McPherson is a familiar face to the Big Ten, as she played four years at Johns Hopkins, and her younger sister Madison is a second team All-Big Ten midfielder there still. McPherson also is second on the team in draw controls with 60, behind Abby Jenkins with 129.
On the offensive end, Julia Gilbert leads the Pios with 58 goals, including this one to tie the game after a three-goal deficit in the quarterfinals.
TIE GAME. TIE GAME.#NCAAWLAX x ESPNU / @DU_WLAX pic.twitter.com/vcYzoUX2yJ— NCAA Lacrosse (@NCAALAX) May 18, 2023
Lauren Black falls into second with 37 goals and Ellie Curry with 31. While it may not seem like they have as many offensive weapons as some of the other Final Four teams, Denver has nine players with double-digit goals.
The semifinal matchup between the ‘Cats and the Pioneers will pit the nation’s leading defense against the top-ranked offense.
No. 2 Syracuse (18-2, 8-1 ACC)
After falling in the quarterfinals to Northwestern last season, 15-4, the Orange emerged as the nation’s top team for the majority of the regular season. They handed the ‘Cats their only loss of the season thus far, way back on Feb. 11, 16-15. They went on to win fourteen more games to set a new program win record before suffering back-to-back losses — first falling to Boston College (naturally, this year’s other semifinal opponent) in the regular season finale, 17-16, and then losing early in the ACC tournament to North Carolina, 15-9.
It’s safe to say, this Syracuse team is not too different than last season’s Northwestern team, which fell to Rutgers and Maryland before coming out hot in the NCAA tournament. The Orange first faced the Johns Hopkins Blue Jays who were firmly on the bubble for the NCAA tournament, but took down ranked teams in Rutgers and Penn State to solidify their case. That being said, Syracuse took care of business with a 25-8 victory followed by a 13-7 victory over the seventh-seeded James Madison Dukes.
Despite losing their primary draw-taker, Kate Mashewske, to an injury early in the season, the Orange still rank in the top-15 for draw controls, right under Stanford and Northwestern. Specifically, sophomore Olivia Adamson has stepped up in her absence, tallying 99 draw controls all since March 11, when Mashewske got injured. She had a season-high four goals in the win over JMU as well.
There are numerous scoring threats, both midfielders and attackers, on this Orange team. Tewaaraton finalist Meaghan Tyrell leads the team with 55 goals and 52 assists, followed by her sister Emma, who has 51 goals. Megan Carney is third in goals with 58, and Emma Ward leads the team in assists with 56.
A major reason for Syracuse’s success this season has been first team All-American goalie Delaney Sweitzer. After only starting five games last season, she has started all 20 contests in 2023 and has a save percentage 51.3%, conceding an average of only 9.26 goals per game.
It’s safe to say the Orange will want to avenge their undefeated, regular season-blemishing loss against the Boston College Eagles in the semifinals on Friday. The two will square off after the first semifinal (Denver and Northwestern) at approximately 4:30 PM CT.
No. 3 Boston College (18-3, 8-1 ACC)
This will mark BC’s sixth-straight trip to the Final Four, an incredibly impressive feat. That being said, after the graduation of women’s lacrosse legend Charlotte North, there could have been some questions as to if BC could continue to be so dominant.
Despite early-season losses to Northwestern, North Carolina and Denver (two of the other Final Four participants), the Eagles have been hot as of late, taking down Syracuse in the regular season finale. The Eagles handed the Orange their first loss of the season and beat UNC for the program’s first ACC tournament title.
Leading the team this season is Tewaraaton finalist Jenn Medjid, who has 77 goals and 23 assists — good for a satisfying 100 points. Belle Smith is one of the best two-way midfielders, adding in 27 draw controls, 15 caused turnovers and 50 goals.
Andrea Reynolds and Ryan Smith have been mainstays in the draw circle, with Reynolds tallying 90 and Smith notching 80.
The Weeks twins, Cassidy and Courtney, have come up absolutely clutch when it’s been needed most — namely in the ACC championship game where they combined for four goals to bring the Eagles back within one score.
A noticeable change for the Eagles since they faced Northwestern is that freshman Shea Dolce has been taking most of the time between the pipes, rather than splitting minutes with Rachel Hall. She allows an average of just 8.36 goals per game, highlighted by 16 saves in the regular season finale victory over then-No. 1 and undefeated Syracuse.
After taking down Ivy League champion Penn, 9-7, BC dominated Notre Dame, 20-6. They are now staring down Syracuse for a chance to make their sixth-straight NCAA championship game.