Virginia entertains top-10 duo
No. 6 squad welcomes top-ranked Maryland, No. 10 Penn State
After weathering two razor-thin contests in hostile environments, the Virginia women’s lacrosse returns home Friday for its most daunting challenge to date. The No. 6 Cavaliers (2-1,) will take on undefeated and No. 1 Maryland Friday before hosting No. 10 Penn State Sunday.
The Terrapins’ (3-0, 1-0 ACC) recent ascension to the top of the IWLCA Coaches poll supplies additional sheen to a matchup already highlighted on the Virginia calendar as the home opener and first game of ACC play.
“We keep pointing out that the basketball No. 1 keeps losing as soon as they get that ‘1,’ so we’re kind of hoping that that stays the course,” coach Julie Myers said, jokingly. “But Maryland is excellent. I don’t remember the last time they had a team quite as talented as what they have right now, and they’ve had a lot of great teams.”
The Terrapins have thrashed their opposition thus far, outscoring opponents 54-24 while firing 100 shots against 66 defended. Even more impressive, the 2010 NCAA champions have posted their wins against Richmond, No. 8 Duke and No. 4 Syracuse. Maryland’s 19-11 victory at then-No. 2 Syracuse represented one of the most emphatic statements of the lacrosse world’s opening fortnight.
Maryland boasts the reigning ACC Player of the Year on both offense and defense. Senior midfielder Katie Schwarzmann collected IWLCA First Team All-American honors in 2012 after racking up 72 goals and 22 assists. Senior defender Iliana Sanza joined Schwarmann as a First Team All-American, and the two have made their presence felt in the early goings of 2013. Schwarzmann scored a career-high seven goals against Syracuse, and Sanza leads the team in ground balls.
“They’re always a really good team, and they’re really fun to compete against,” senior defender and co-captain Megan Dunleavy said. “They’re really fast, and they love the fast breaks.”
Meanwhile, the quick turnaround between the Maryland and Penn State games has compelled Myers to brainstorm ideas to prepare her team for not just one but two physically challenging back-to-back games.
“It’s tough,” Myers said. “We’re going to watch film of Penn State, and then we’re going to go out and do a blended practice with a Penn State-Maryland focus.”
Though the Nittany Lions (2-1, 0-0 Big Ten) hold a lower ranking than Maryland, the team possesses its own load of talent. The Nittany Lions finished last year 12-7 and No. 13 in the Women’s Lacrosse RPI and went a stunning 8-2 away from State College. This year’s team includes only three seniors but features several precocious underclassmen. Sophomore midfielder Tatum Coffey was named a Third Team All-American in 2012, and sophomore attacker Maggie McCormick led last year’s team with 59 points. Senior attacker Molly Fernandez balances this youth with a strong veteran presence, having scored a team-leading 35 goals last season.
“Clearly we need to play well on Friday night,” Myers said. “And we need to still have energy to play great against Penn State on Sunday because they’re really good, play a totally different style, have totally different challenges.”
Virginia comes into the weekend familiar with the pressure of tight games against quality foes. The Cavaliers opened their season with a 10-9 win at No. 7 Loyola (Md) and last Sunday lost by the same margin against No. 4 Syracuse despite holding an 8-5 lead with 20 minutes to go.
“We stuck to the game plan,” Myers said. “We did a great job of really executing when we needed to, until really kind of that second part of the second half.”
Senior defender Lelan Bailey’s late-game hamstring tear only compounded the sting of the loss to the Orange, depleting the Cavaliers’ already thin back line even more. Virginia had already lost sophomore defender Kelsey Gahan.
“Two of our feistier, better, lock-down defenders — and energy and just heart of the defense — are now missing,” Myers said. “We’ll get them back, but not for this weekend. So that’s tough.”
Virginia hopes to meet such obstacles head-on, and this weekend, they will have the chance to do so at home for the first time all season.
The ball drops 7 p.m. Friday and 1 p.m. Sunday at Klöckner Stadium.