Which will it be?
Favorites, underdogs, rivals set to vie for national title
OWINGS MILL, Md. – For four NCAA Division II women’s lacrosse teams, this is the very best time of the year.
A few months ago, squads from across the country set their sights on this very weekend. Most fell by the wayside at one point or another, until only LIU-Post, Limestone, Rollins and Adelphi were left standing.
Going into Saturday’s semifinals, just two games stand between the four schools and a national championship. No one can know for sure which team will lift the trophy come Sunday afternoon, but it’s going to be fun to watch.
The first semifinal, set for 4:30 p.m. at Mustang Stadium, will feature LIU Post and Adelphi. Their stories are different -– Post is ranked first in the country and sports an undefeated 18-0 record, while Adelphi came roaring back from a five-goal deficit to win 9-8 against LeMoyne May 11.
LIU Post head coach Meghan McNamara knows that the Pioneers can’t afford to relax. Yes, her team is the defending national champion. Yes, it’s coming into the tournament undefeated. There are, however, other teams hungry to knock LIU Post off its throne.
“It’s very, very simple,” McNamara began. “We have to come to play. That’s it. What’s it going to take? It’s just like what you always strive for. You want to play at your team’s best. You just fight.”
It’s the little things, McNamara adds, that makes her team as successful as it is.
“We play as a team,” she said. “We play for each other. That’s our strength at both ends of the field. We really want to just get better and make sure we’re multidimensional –- we’re staying sharp with all the tangibles we can control and staying focused and being prepared.”
As formidable as LIU Post might seem, Adelphi might just be the championship tournament’s storybook team. The program was left in disarray just two years ago when a former coach departed. Rob Grella took over, and has seen the Panthers rebuilt from the ground up. Now, Adelphi stands on the precipice of returning to its former glory.
“We’re playing a team that’s undefeated and number one in the country,” Grella said. “I think it’s going to take a contribution from every single player on our roster on Saturday to knock off Long Island University. What we do really well is find everybody’s best attribute and we try to make sure it shines all at the same time.
“We saw a little bit of that last Saturday, when we were down by five goals with about 13 minutes left. Every player on that field made a play that led to our comeback.”
What, in particular, concerns Grella about LIU Post? That’s an easy one. Her name is Jackie Sileo, who has a whopping 115 assists and 170 points. No other Pioneer player has more than 29 assists.
“They’ve got probably one of the greatest players in the game,” Grella said. “We’re going to have to deny her the ball, and they’ve got a couple of goal scorers that we’re going to have to shut down and keep at bay.
“Our defense is going to have their work cut out for them on Saturday. We’re going to have to execute and take full advantage of every opportunity we create.”
The other semifinal Saturday, slated for 7:30 p.m., pits Limestone and Rollins. They’re no strangers. Limestone handed Rollins its only loss of the season back on March 16.
“We love to play Limestone,” said head coach Dennis Short with a chuckle. “There’s mutual respect. [Coach Scott] Tucker is one of the best in the business in any division, so you know they’re going to be extremely well prepared.
“Their kids, I think they’re almost a mirror image of our program. They’ve got a lot of kids who are going to just give you everything on the field. I love playing them. I think it actually brings out the best in both teams. The intensity level at a Limestone-Rollins game is pretty awesome.”
It wasn’t until 2008 that Rollins sported a women’s lacrosse team, and the school still does not offer scholarships. After experiencing growing pains that sometimes saw the team playing on as many as nine different “home” fields, the Tars made their first national-semifinals appearance last year. In a very real sense, however, this time around is even more special because it proves 2012 wasn’t a fluke.
“I’m just so proud of my kids,” Short continued. “They’re out there because they love the game. They love each other. It’s such a great family that we have here. That, to me, is a culture we’ve created.”
Without any prompting, Tucker also described Rollins as a similar leave-it-all-on-the-field kind of team. To get past Rollins a second time will take consistency, of course. Its defense is Limestone’s backbone.
“We have so much leadership with the amount of seniors we have,” Tucker said. “I think between the upperclassman leadership and the toughness of our defense, and how well we’ve learned to play together, is what sets us apart.”