Spring postseason approaches
Also: UCLA, Penn State prepare for championship meets
The men’s lacrosse postseason is approaching with blazing speed and teams are looking for wins anywhere they can get them in order to secure one of those few berths into the NCAA tournament.
In other words, it’s crunch time.
There is probably no better example on the Division I schedule this weekend than the Villanova-Notre Dame game.
After starting the season with a 1-5 record, the Wildcats have won four of their last five games and are 5-6 heading into the weekend. At first glance, a 5-6 record doesn’t look like much, but Villanova is 4-0 in Big East Conference action, including a victory against No. 4 Syracuse. Each of the Wildcats’ losses has come at the hands of teams ranked in the top 20 (Maryland, Princeton, Lehigh, Drexel, Penn and Penn State).
The Wildcats’ late-season surge has not gone unnoticed. Villanova cracked the latest USILA and Inside Lacrosse national polls at No. 19 on Monday.
This weekend, the Wildcats will certainly be looking to cause a stir when they visit the second-ranked Irish. Notre Dame is 9-2 and 3-1 in league play, and has beaten some of the top teams in the nation -- Duke, North Carolina, Denver, Penn State to name a few -- but the Irish have also been known to let their guard down a little, falling to pesky teams like Hofstra and St. John’s (N.Y.) on their home turf.
The Wildcats bring the nation’s top man-up offense (.529) into the contest, along with one of the best face-off specialists in the game, Thomas Croonquist, who wins 56.3 percent of the time. Croonquist has posted 15 face-off wins in three games this year. Additionally, junior John LoCascio is national leader in ground balls per game with 3.9. LoCascio has caused 18 turnovers and grabbed 36 ground balls in the last four contests.
Villanova will have their hands full trying to score on Notre Dame’s stingy defense. The Irish are giving up just 7.82 goals per game, and boast a man-down defense of .759. Senior goalkeeper John Kemp has compiled a 7.65 goals against average on the year.
The game will have Big East regular-season title implications as there is just one regular-season contest remaining on the schedule for both squads. The Wildcats have already clinched a berth in the league tournament, but the Irish are still one victory away.
• In the 31 years since the NCAA women’s gymnastics championships has been in existence, there have only been four programs that have claimed the crown – Georgia (10), Utah, (9), UCLA (6) and Alabama (6). Will this be the year another team breaks through? Both No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Oklahoma certainly have a shot at winning their first NCAA title, but the four previous winners are also in the running. Beginning Friday, UCLA is hosting the event for the fourth time, and first time in the New Pauley Pavilion, which underwent a $136 million dollar renovation last year. The last time the Bruins hosted the championships was in 2004 when they set a NCAA Super Six record with a winning score of 198.125.
• Something will have to give when two of the nation’s top scoring defenses collide on Saturday as the No. 3 Florida women’s lacrosse team hosts American Lacrosse Conference rival and fourth-ranked Northwestern in a battle for the top spot in the league standings. The Gators are giving up the third-least goals per game (6.88), while the Wildcats are ranked fifth in scoring defense, allowing just 7.29 goals per game. At 3-1 against conference opponents, Florida needs to knock off Northwestern, which is unbeaten in league play, in order to claim a share of the regular-season ALC title. Penn State is also 3-1 in the ALC standings, and will play Johns Hopkins on Sunday at noon live on ESPNU.
•The No. 12 Yale men’s lacrosse team will look to extend its five-game winning streak in perhaps the Bulldogs’ most challenging contest of the season when they travel to No. 4 Maryland for a non-conference tilt on Saturday at noon. The Bulldogs’ three losses this season have come by a combined margin of four goals, including a 12-10 setback to then-No. 2 Cornell on March 16. In addition, two victories during Yale’s five-game winning streak have been in overtime, including an 11-10 defeat of Stony Brook on Monday.
• The Michigan baseball team heads to Northwestern on a hot streak, winning its last 10 games, including a no-hitter in an 8-2 victory against Notre Dame on Tuesday. It is the Wolverines longest winning streak since 2008 and has them in a tie for first place in the Big Ten standings. But maybe more exciting than Michigan’s recent success, will be Saturday night’s venue for the contest against the Wildcats, historic Wrigley Field. First pitch is at 7 p.m.
"We're so grateful to the entire Chicago Cubs organization for opening the doors to this historic venue and for allowing Chicago's Big Ten Team to play a game at their beautiful facility," Northwestern head coach Paul Stevens said. "Whether you grew up in Chicago or California, if you're a ballplayer, you've dreamt of one day playing at Wrigley Field, one of the iconic sporting venues in the world. Northwestern and Michigan will get that chance on a very special night and we're all looking forward to the occasion."
• The Penn State men’s gymnastics team spent the entire season at No. 1 in the national rankings, and will enter NCAA championships as the top-seeded team in a three-day event the Nittany Lions will host at the historic Recreation Building on the University Park campus beginning Friday. Penn State will not only be seeking its 13th NCAA title, but its first since 2007. The Nittany Lions will also be looking to rebound from a second-place finish at the Big Ten Championships on April 6, where No. 3 Michigan took the title. Penn State’s Craig Hernandez leads the nation in the pommel horse with a 15.281 average, while Wasef Burbar is the top gymnast on the high bar with a 15.150 average.
• The top two baseball teams in Division II’s Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletic Association will meet for a three-game series beginning Saturday as No. 15 Central Missouri visits No. 5 Missouri Western. Missouri Western soared to No. 5 in the latest NCBWA poll after winning 29 of its last 31 games, including a 5-3 defeat of No. 4 St. Cloud State on Monday. It is the Griffons’ highest ranking in school history. Central Missouri sits in second place in the MIAA standings, and has won eight of its last 10 games.
• After taking over the No. 1 spot in the latest Division III poll, Linfield will face a tough Northwest Conference test when the Wildcats host No. 18 George Fox in a battle of the league’s top-two teams. George Fox currently holds a half-game lead against Linfield in the standings, and the outcome of the three-game series beginning Saturday will essentially determine the conference champion. The Wildcats have won four consecutive contests, and six of their last seven. Linfield ranks third nationally with a 2.32 ERA, and leads DIII with 34 double plays. The Bruins have also been hot, winning five of their last six games. They average 8.4 runs per game, which ranks 11th nationally.
• The No. 8 Redlands softball squad enters the weekend on a 16-game winning streak, posting shutouts in its last four contests, and will look to cap off the regular season on high note as the Maroon and Gray visit No. 18 Claremont-Mudd-Scripps on Friday for a doubleheader in Division III’s Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference action. Redlands senior pitcher Kayla Uphold ranks 11th in the nation with a 1.08 ERA, and is third in DIII with 20 victories on the season. CMS has won six consecutive and shut out three of its last four opponents heading into the final weekend of the regular season.
• The No. 15 Tampa softball team has been on fire, winning seven consecutive games with five shutouts during the stretch. Pitching has been an integral of the Spartans’ success, led by junior Kayla Cox. Cox has compiled a 19-4 record and 0.54 ERA, while striking out 246 batters in 155.2 innings pitched. She paces the nation in ERA, and ranks sixth in Division II with 11.1 strikeouts per seven innings. Cox also leads the nation in hits per seven innings (2.79) and shutouts (13). The Spartans look to extend their streak in a three-game series against Sunshine State Conference foe Nova Southeastern beginning Friday.
• The No. 13 Indiana (Pa.) women’s lacrosse team is off to the best start in program history after blasting off to a 10-0 mark and setting a school record for consecutive victories. IUP tops Division II with an 18.50 scoring average, led by Alexa Lodovici, who is contributing 4.0 goals and 3.3 assists per game. The Crimson Hawks are one of four Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference schools ranked in the national poll, and will host a pair of league foes this weekend. IUP will tangle with Kutztown on Friday, and then faces the other first-place team in the PSAC – No. 5 West Chester on Saturday. The Golden Rams and Crimson Hawks have identical 7-0 records in PSAC play.
• In only its first season as a Division III program, the Mount Union women’s lacrosse team is having a solid year. Since losing their season-opening contest to Oberlin by a one-goal margin, the Purple Raiders have been perfect, winning nine consecutive games. In seven of those nine victories, Mount Union has not given up more than four goals and has posted two shutouts. The Purple Raiders lead the nation in both scoring offense (18.70) and scoring defense (3.4) under first-year head coach Emily Fisher. Mount Union is playing as an independent in its first season, but next year the Ohio Athletic Conference will sponsor women’s lacrosse. The Purple Raiders are in action on Friday when they host St. Vincent (Pa.).
Follow Amy Farnum on Twitter: @NCAA_Amy