With no team ranked lower than eighth nationally, the four-way battle for ACC women's lacrosse tournament champion promises to be nothing less than a hotly contested dogfight this weekend in College Park, Md.
So far this season, no team has emerged as a definite frontrunner for the ACC trophy. Over the past two months, No. 1 Maryland (12-1, 2-1 ACC) has beaten No. 3 Duke (9-3, 1-2) and No. 8 Virginia (9-4, 1-2) but has lost to No. 6 North Carolina (9-4, 2-1). The Tar Heels have lost to the Blue Devils, who then were knocked off by the Cavaliers.
"I think it just shows you that people are going to trade games," Virginia coach Julie Myers said. "No one walked through the season and came out on top and unscathed, so it's anyone's tournament."
If there must be a favorite, Maryland is it. Despite being the second seed in the tournament, the Terps still are the defending ACC and national champions, and their fast-breaking offense this season has driven them to 10 wins against ranked opponents.
Four Terrapins rank in the top five in ACC scoring, led by junior attacker Jen Adams, who leads the conference in goals (50) and assists (35), and senior midfielder Christie Jenkins, who has scored in 47 consecutive games. In wins over Duke and Virginia, the Terps' dynamic attack quickly erased first-half deficits with prolonged scoring runs.
"That's Maryland's game - to get into that quick run-and-gun," Duke coach Kersten Kimel said.
As the luck would have it, the third-seeded Cavs drew the Terrapins in tomorrow's first-round game. Although Maryland has taken the last 11 games against the Cavaliers, Virginia is the only team besides Maryland with an ACC championship under their belt.
However, if they want to win again, the Cavs must address the defensive lapses that cost them in a 17-8 loss to the Terps March 14 in College Park. Myers said the squad has been working on its defensive transition to slow down Maryland's fast break.
On offense, Virginia simply has to continue its recent stellar play. Seniors attacker Jamie Haas and midfielder Amy Fromal lead the Cavs with 27 goals apiece, but freshman midfielder Lauren Aumiller is close behind, netting 26 goals. For its second meeting with the Terrapins, the Cav offense will have a few new tricks up its sleeve.
"We've also been working on a couple of offensive concepts and getting in a lot of repetitions over the past few weeks, so hopefully, that should pay off as well," Myers said.
The winner of the Virginia-Maryland matchup will face either fourth-seeded Duke or top-seeded North Carolina in the championship game. The Tar Heels earned the tiebreaker for the No. 1 seed by defeating Maryland, 14-13, in a triple overtime thriller March 5, but they are up against a Blue Devil team that beat them earlier in the season.
"I think it's a good thing for us," to be playing Carolina, Kimel said. "In the history of our program we've never gotten to an ACC final, and I think the pride of [finally getting there] is something that's beating in the hearts of our players right now."
The two tobacco road teams will play at 1 p.m. tomorrow, while Virginia and Maryland are scheduled to face off at 3 p.m. The winners of these two evenly matched contests will meet Sunday at 1 p.m. for the championship.