Women's Final Four Preview: Boston College vs. Navy

On March 4, Boston College handled Navy 20-11 in Annapolis, Md., on the strength of three five-plus point performances from Sam Apuzzo (9), Kate Weeks (7) and Kaileen Hart (6).

But come Friday, it will be a completely new ball game in Foxborough, Mass.

Both Boston College and Navy are different teams than they were at the beginning of the year, making their first final four appearances in their program’s histories. They are the lone unranked teams still standing, which means one is guaranteed a spot in the NCAA championship. The last time an unranked team made the final was in 2003 (Princeton).

The Mids are coming off a postseason stride that has caught the lacrosse world off-guard. They are riding a nine-game winning streak, highlighted by a dominant 15-5 upset of top-seeded Loyola for the Patriot League crown, and most recently, a 16-14 upset bid of reigning NCAA champion and No. 2 seed North Carolina.

The Eagles finished in the bottom half of the ACC with a 3-4 regular season conference record, but has cruised through the NCAA tournament thus far, first upsetting No. 6 seed Syracuse 21-10, then defeating MPSF champion USC 20-14. 

Boston College

At A Glance

 

 

National Rankings

 

2017 Overall Record 16-6   Offense 7th (15.64)
NCAA Tournament Appearances 6   Defense 65th (12.32)
NCAA Tournament Overall Record 5-5   Draws 6th (15.45)
NCAA Final Four Appearances 1   Caused Turnovers 62nd (8.77)
Head Coach Acacia Walker   Save Percentage 67th (0.418)
Head Coach Record at BC 68-33      
Assistants Brooke Griffin, Jennifer Kent      
Leading Scorers Sam Apuzzo (74G), Kate Weeks (72G)      

Navy

At A Glance

 

 

National Rankings

 

2017 Overall Record 18-4   Offense 9th (15.59)
NCAA Tournament Appearances 5   Defense 19th (9.55)
NCAA Tournament Overall Record 4-4   Draws 3rd (15.73)
NCAA Final Four Appearances 1   Caused Turnovers 40th (9.59)
Head Coach Cindy Timchal   Save Percentage 89th (0.39)
Head Coach Record at Navy 157-77 (at Division I level)      
Assistants Gabby Capuzzi, Aly Messinger, Matt Holman       
Leading Scorers Jenna Collins (71G), Morgan Young (52G)      
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Category: 
College
Author: 
Megan Schneider
Body Section One: 

Top Storylines

Boston College is playing under the lights, but shooting them down.  

Of the eight seeded teams in this year’s tournament, two hailed from the ACC – No. 2 North Carolina and No. 6 Syracuse. Of the conference’s eight teams, all but two went dancing.

The one still standing is the team fans least expected – Boston College, which earned the fifth seed in the league tournament behind the No. 1 Tar Heels, No. 2 Orange, No. 3 Virginia and No. 4 Notre Dame.

“Friday night under the lights, if they feel nervous, they can quickly shoot it down because they’ve worked hard for the moment,” said Boston College coach Acacia Walker. “To be the only ACC team is amazing. … All the other ACC teams are amazing teams and I’m surprised that they’re not there, but they have helped prepare us.”

Walker, who played for Timchal at Maryland and grew up down the street from the Naval Academy, will be well prepared for what her opponent might throw at the Eagles, but will have to take her own advice of pushing the nerves aside.

“I never underestimate Cindy,” Walker said. “The woman knows how to win. … Cindy being at the helm of that program will make anyone nervous.”

Navy is the Cinderella story, but isn’t acting like one.

“I don’t think we feel that way, but I guess it looks like that,” Timchal said, laughing. “I’m really proud of the team.”

While Boston College is also unranked, Navy is taking the headlines. First, as the No. 2 seed in the Patriot League tournament, the Mids rolled past Loyola unexpectedly to claim its first conference crown since the Greyhounds joined the conference in 2014 and the automatic qualifying bid to the NCAA tournament.

Navy continued its unlikely run by upsetting No. 7 seed Penn in the first round, followed by wins over UMass and North Carolina.

“They bought into the idea of transcending,” Timchal said following the historic win over the Tar Heels.

Timchal, who is the NCAA’s all-time leader in career wins and has eight NCAA titles under her belt as the former head coach at Maryland, knows what it takes to get in the tournament – and stay in the tournament. The key is keeping everything in perspective and simply focusing on themselves.

Strengths

Boston College’s draw game is now dangerous(ly good).

It’s easy to identify the leading scorers, and while Walker may point out her defense as a key strength this season because the offense can’t get the ball unless the defense does its job, the Eagles’ performance on the draw has been a key staple for them, especially in the postseason.

In the first round, they edged out Canisius 16-15 on the draw for the 21-9 win. In the second round, Boston College led in every statistical team category against Syracuse with a 17-15 advantage in draw controls.

Then against USC, the Eagles improved exponentially, taking the midfield 23-12. It’s been a much-needed change since Boston College last played Navy – the Mids won the draw battle 19-14.

This season, Eagles sophomore Sam Apuzzo leads the team with 59 draw controls, but it’s been a complete team effort in the NCAA tournament.

Against Canisius, Apuzzo kicked it off with a team-high six draw controls. Against Syracuse, freshman Sheila Reitano led with eight draw controls. Against USC, it was senior Kate Weeks who led the way with seven draw controls.

Walker’s immediate response when asked what the difference will be between winning and losing on Friday?

“We have to win the draws,” she said. “Our kids really battle hard in the 50-50 battles, which I think may be something that will trigger some inspiration for Friday.”

Aly Messinger is on Navy’s side.

Navy has turned the corner, much in part thanks to assistant Aly Messinger.

This season, Timchal welcomed last year’s NCAA championship Most Outstanding Player Aly Messinger, who graduated from North Carolina with 230 points as a three-time All-American and two-time All-ACC honoree with two national titles to boot (2013, 2016).

Under Messinger’s guidance with championship-caliber experience, Navy’s offensive players have etched their names in the record books.

On April 3, freshman attacker Kelly Larkin earned a record-breaking sixth Patriot League Rookie of the Week honor with 14 points in wins over Lehigh and Army. On April 29, the team tied the school record for goals scored in a game in its 24-10 victory at Lafayette, which was also the first time the Mids scored 24 goals on the road.

For single-season records, Jenna Collins now sits second with 111 points, tied with Erin Rawlick who tallied the same mark in 2010, and is 16 points away from ranking first. Collins is also six goals away from tying Rawlick’s 77-goal record.

“The offense has really bought into sharing the ball, playing as a unit and really knowing what it’s going to take to be successful,” Timchal said. “It’s been on the players to make the right decision at the right time.”

The Mids have seven players who are in the double digits for scoring.

Weaknesses

Can Boston College be the ACC-caliber team that fans are used to seeing in the final four?

The bottom line for Walker is Boston College has to stay consistent in its play and not being rattled by different strategies thrown its way.

During the regular season, the Eagles lost to Syracuse 18-8, Virginia Tech 18-12, Maryland 21-13, North Carolina 15-13 and Duke 15-12. In the ACC tournament, they fell to the Tar Heels again, 17-14.

But the NCAA tournament has shone some light on a Boston College team that might be keeping that consistency that’s required of an NCAA champion. The Eagles rebounded against Syracuse and scored 20 or more goals in all three games. The last time they scored 20 goals was back in March, ironically against Navy. 

“I just hope to get them a little bit better and a little more confident this week,” Walker said. “We can’t be the same team we’ve been all year. We have to be better than we’ve ever been. It’s the final four.”

Can Navy play like Maryland?

As the former head coach at Maryland for 16 seasons from 1991-2006, featuring eight NCAA titles, Timchal is no stranger to the final four. But it’s the first time the Mids have danced this far since the program’s inception, first as a club in 2007 and then as a Division I team in 2008.

Navy has recorded winning seasons each year, but it has yet to reach the caliber of the Maryland dynasty. This year, Navy now has its chance to break the mold, but Timchal still wonders if Navy can reach the level of excellence Maryland has historically achieved year after year.

Upon being asked about areas of improvement and what her team needs to do in order to succeed in the final four, Timchal’s response was simple:

 “Play like Maryland?” she questioned, laughing.

Fans will have to wait and see if this is finally Navy’s year to break through. 

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"They’ve gotten a lot better. We’ve gotten a lot better. It’s the final four, so it usually brings out the best." – Boston College coach Acacia Walker
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Body Section Two: 

X-Factor

Boston College has home-field advantage.

When Gillette Stadium was selected as the site for the 2017 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Championship on Oct. 7, Walker purposely decided to not let her players think about it.

“Thinking about Gillette doesn’t help you win the game,” she said. “[But] now that we’re playing at Gillette, we added it to our thought process. … We’re playing in our backyard, so hopefully we draw a little inspiration from that.”

Walker has met Patriots coach Bill Belichick on several occasions – “he’s like a hero for me,” she said – and the players, especially the local girls, grew up “idolizing anything that happens in Gillette Stadium, let alone any Boston sport. … Playing on the same grass as Tom Brady… it’s a dream come true.”

The Naval Academy prepared the Mids well. 

As student-athletes at the Naval Academy, the Mids’ leadership skills have been ingrained since day one. Not only do they have the leadership of their captains, senior attacker Morgan Young and senior defender Meghan Hubley, the latter unfortunately getting injured, they have the discipline, focus and resilience to push even further in the NCAA tournament. 

“Expect to win – that’s philosophy of the Naval Academy,” Timchal said. “You don’t go into battle with the thought of losing. … We try to do everything right and prepare very diligently.

“The commitment of the team to play tough and hard every day at practice and to work towards getting better is the reason why we’re shipping it up to Boston this weekend,” she added.

Best-Kept Secret

Ice hockey star Kenzie Kent joins Boston College at the right time, every time.

Boston College may struggle early in the year, but as soon as the school’s women’s ice hockey team’s season ends, the tides quickly change. That’s because Kenzie Kent, now a junior, is back in action on the lacrosse field.

On March 29, Kent played her first game this season against Yale, coming off the bench tallying one goal and two assists in the 19-12 win. She started the next game against ACC rival Virginia, a 17-10 victory, easily netting a team-high eight points on three goals and five assists. In just 10 games, Kent has 61 points (29 goals, 32 assists). Her 32 assists rank second on the team.

“In hockey, you don’t have a ton of possessions,” Walker said. “You have to know what you’re doing with the puck before you get it, so that’s exactly how she plays lacrosse and that’s why she’s a dangerous feeder. She knows what she’s going to do with the ball before it’s in her stick.”

Everything about Navy has been its best-kept secret.

Everyone has underestimated Navy, period. That’s the beauty of May Madness. Cinderella teams rise, and sometimes fall, but the Mids haven’t gone anywhere yet. They rank in the Top 20 in three key categories – offense (9th), defense (19th) and draws (3rd).

North Carolina coach Jenny Levy was clearly disappointed after falling to Navy, and Walker knows very well that “they snuck under the radar.”

“People probably underestimated them. I just don’t think you can do that,” Walker said. “The way women’s lacrosse is working now. Everybody’s good.”

Body Section Three: 

Ground Balls

1

It’s the first final four appearance for both Boston College and Navy. Neither team has made it this far, making it a historic moment for both programs. The furthest Navy danced was in 2013, when it fell to Duke 10-5 in the second round. Boston College made it to the quarterfinals in 2014, falling short of the final four losing 11-9 to Syracuse.

8

Boston College players from Massachusetts – Tess Chandler (Hopkinton, Mass.), Kenzie Kent (Norwell, Mass.), Zoe Ochoa (Longmeadow, Mass.), Kayla O’Connor (Merrimac, Mass.), Jillian Reilly (Westwood, Mass.), Morgan Tedeschi (Scituate, Mass.), Brooke Troy (Westwood, Mass.) and Christina Walsh (Franklin, Mass.).

9

Game winning streak for Cinderella Navy, with a combined 141-84 score. Boston College is riding a three-game winning streak with a combined 62-33 score.

15

NCAA women’s lacrosse titles won by current Boston College and Navy coaches either as a coach or a player. Walker helped lead Northwestern to three straight titles as an assistant in 2006-2008 after graduating from Maryland in 2005. Boston College assistant Brooke Griffin won two crowns as a player for the Terps in 2014 and 2015. Timchal won eight as Maryland’s head coach in 1992, as well as from 1995-2001. Messinger won two as a player for North Carolina in 2013 and 2016.

111

Points by both Boston College’s leader Sam Apuzzo and Navy’s leader Jenna Collins. Apuzzo also leads the Eagles in goals (74), assists (37), and draw controls (59). Collins also leads the Mids in goals (71).

Coaches’ Corner

Boston College coach Acacia Walker

“We’re obviously new to the whole scene, but I think our girls are really grounded and focused on playing good lacrosse,” Walker said. “We’ll continue focusing on being the best lacrosse team that we can be.”

Navy coach Cindy Timchal

“It’s an exciting time for Navy women’s lacrosse,” Timchal said. “We keep everything in perspective. We’ve been focusing on ourselves. … The players are certainly an inspiration to our coaching staff to play so tough and so together, and we have a lot of work cut out for us.”

Making the Case

Boston College

The ACC is argued as one of the best, if not the best conference in women’s lacrosse. The reigning national champion and No. 2 seed North Carolina was knocked out by Navy, and the No. 6 seed Syracuse was knocked out by Boston College. For Boston College to be the only ACC team still standing is a statement of its own. If the Eagles can control the draw, and also play for a full 60 minutes, not allowing Navy to take advantage of any first or second half lulls, they could be advancing to its first-ever NCAA championship.

Navy

This month in lacrosse is called May Madness for a reason. Any team can win on any given day, and Navy is certainly hot right now. Despite losing their leading defender and captain Meghan Hubley, the Mids have the offensive weapons they need to continue to throw some firepower at Boston College. Timchal also said they just need to play a full 60 minutes because lacrosse is a game of runs. If their win over reigning national champion North Carolina is any indication of what’s to come – the Mids came back from a three-goal deficit with 17:39 to play thanks to a 6-1 run in their favor – Navy is well-positioned to keep dancing until Sunday.

Short Summary: 
Breaking down the battle between Cinderellas, as Boston College and Navy draw Friday night.
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Photographer Main Image: 
PHOTO BY GREG WALL
Photographer Parallax: 
PHOTO BY ANDY MEAD
Photo Main Caption: 
Boston College's ice hockey sensation Kenzie Kent is expected to shine in the program's first final four appearance.
Photo Parallax Caption: 
Navy stunned reigning national champion North Carolina to also make its final four appearance.

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