Women’s lacrosse faces top-seeded Florida in NCAA quarterfinal
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — The Nittany Lion women’s lacrosse team will continue its NCAA Championship journey on Saturday afternoon in a familiar place against a well-known foe. Penn State, the lone at-large team remaining in the 2012 field, will travel to Gainesville for the third time this season to face American Lacrosse Conference champion and No. 1 seed Florida (18-2) in a 12:30 p.m. quarterfinal match-up at the Gators’ Donald R. Dizney Stadium.
Penn State (12-6) faced Florida in an ALC contest in Gainesville earlier this season and visited there again just two weeks ago when the Gators hosted the 2012 ALC Championship, playing Johns Hopkins. The Nittany Lions have been exceptional on the road in 2012, posting an 8-1 record, with its lone loss coming to UF in the teams’ April 1 regular season meeting. The eight road wins are the most by a Penn State team since the national championship season of 1989 but the Nittany Lions are 0-3 all-time at Dizney Stadium.
Last weekend, Penn State made a triumphant return to the NCAA postseason, advancing to the elite eight with a convincing 15-8 first round win over No. 8 seed Towson at the Tigers’ Johnny Unitas Stadium. The Nittany Lions used a dominating second half performance, outscoring Towson, 9-3, to secure a win in the program’s first NCAA appearance since 2005. The victory, the program’s first in NCAA Championship play since 1999, upped Penn State’s overall postseason record to 30-17.
Baltimore native junior Molly Fernandez scored a game-high four goals while the freshmen duo of Maggie McCormick (Eldersburg, Md.) (1 goal, 3 assists) and Haley Ford (White Hall, Md.) (3 goals) combined for seven points.
Senior goalkeepeer Dana Cahill (Towson, Md.) starred on defense in her hometown return, recording six saves, including four key stops in the decisive second half. Sophomore defender Lizzy Carney (West Chester, Pa.) held the Tigers’ leading scorer, who entered the game with 66 points, to just two and netted her fourth goal of the season.
After her four-goal effort versus Towson, Fernandez has taken over the team lead with 35 for the season but is followed closely in the rankings by sophomore Mackenzie Cyr (Westminster, Md.) and freshman Tatum Coffey (Toms River, N.J.), who each have scored 34. Coffey leads the Nittany Lions in free position goals with eight and draw controls with 52. McCormick tops Penn State with 59 points, the most by a Nittany Lion in a decade, and her 30 assists are the highest total since 2000. Senior Theresa Zichelli (Severna Park, Md.) (22 goals, 4 assists) and freshmen Kelly Lechner (Silver Spring, Md.) (20 goals, 5 assists) and Haley Ford (White Hall, Md.) (14 goals, 3 assists) have also made significant contributions throughout the season on the offensive end.
Two-time ALC Goalkeeper of the Year Dana Cahill and First Team All-ALC selection Lizzy Carney headline the No. 24 Penn State defense. Cahill is ranked fourth nationally in saves (167), 10th in save percentage (.488), and No. 25 in goals against average (9.82). Senior Colleen Shea (Baltimore, Md.) and junior Katie Guy (Whitby, Ont.), who is second on the team with 29 draw controls, are also key to Penn State’s defensive efforts.
Florida, which moved into the No. 1 spot in the national rankings following its ALC Championship win over Northwestern, defeated Albany, 6-4, in Gainesville in the first round to advance to the NCAA quarterfinals.
Powering the Gators to championship’s top seed is the nation’s No. 1 defense and third-ranked offense. Junior goalkeeper Mikey Meagher, who leads the NCAA in goals against average and save percentage, anchors a UF defense that is allowing an average of just 6.40 goals per game.
The Gators offense is balanced and prolific, featuring three players with 60 or more points and six players with 36 or more goals. Kitty Cullen leads the team with 65 points while Gabi Wiegand (45) and Brittany Dashiell (23) top Florida in goals and assists, respectively. Freshman Nora Barry, the ALC Rookie of the Year, ranks first on the team in ground balls (45) and draw controls (44) and has totaled 43 points (36 goals, 7 assists).
Penn State owns an 0-3 series record versus Florida, including this season’s 20-11 road loss to the Gators. The Nittany Lions played that game without top offensive weapon, Mackenzie Cyr, who was out with an injury, and lost their best match-up defender, Lizzy Carney, early on after she was issued two quick yellow cards. The 20 goals Penn State allowed were a season high and the 11 goals scored by the Lions were the second most surrendered by Florida’s defense in 2012.
Fans can follow all of the action of the Penn State-Florida contest with live stats from GameTracker or receive game updates through the official Twitter account of the Penn State women’s lacrosse team, @GoPSUWLax. The NCAA Championship second round battle will also be streamed live online for free. Find links on the front page (click on Schedule/Results) of the official website of Nittany Lion athletics, www.GoPSUsports.com, and on the women’s lacrosse schedule page.
Should Penn State advance, the Nittany Lions will face the winner of the North Carolina-Syracuse game in the semifinals of the 2012 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship. Hosted by Stony Brook University, the game will take place on Friday, May 25 at either 5:30 or 8 p.m. at Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook, N.Y and will be broadcast live on ESPN3.