Will Maryland repeat?
Can North Carolina avenge last year’s title-game loss?
Is this the year Syracuse finally breaks through and wins it all?
And is Penn State capable of continuing its unlikely run for two more games?
In advance of this weekend’s NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship at Talen Energy Stadium, here are five things to watch this weekend.
1. History on the horizon?
Two victories separate top-ranked Maryland (21-0) from becoming the first three-peat champion and first undefeated titlist since Northwestern capped its run of five consecutive crowns while going 23-0 in 2009. Furthermore, it would give the Terrapins an unprecedented 13th national championship – more than any program, men’s or women’s, in NCAA history.
Four seniors have been with Maryland throughout this remarking four-year ride: Two-time Tewaarton Award winner Taylor Cummings, All-American defender Alice Mercer, fellow defender Molly Fleming, and midfielder Bryn Boucher. Cummings and Mercer, who both have freshmen sisters on the Terrapins’ roster, are four-year starters.
If Maryland captures the championship Sunday, it could head a bit south to Lincoln Financial Field should the top-seeded Maryland men play for the title. If both Terrapins’ squads win it all, they would become only the second men’s and women’s teams to do so since Princeton in 1994.
2. Cummings capping incredible career
An all-time women’s lacrosse great will play her final games this weekend when Maryland's Cummings ends her remarkable tenure as a Terrapin. With a pair of wins, the two-time Tewaarton Award winner and four-time All-American will cap her career with an unheard-of 89-3 record and three title celebrations.
If not for a 13-12 title-game overtime loss to North Carolina her freshman year, Cummings and the top-ranked Terrapins would be going for a four-peat on the same field they hoisted the Walnut and Bronze a year ago.
Even so, the first-ever sophomore Tewaarton Award winner in Maryland’s illustrious history has tallied 55 goals and 74 points this season to headline a stellar roster that also features fellow All-Americans in Mercer, sophomore attacker Megan Whittle (69 goals), and juniors Zoe Stukenberg (45 goals) and Nadine Hadnagy.
3. Syracuse still seeking first title
When Syracuse reached its first national semifinal five seasons ago, no one figured the Orange would become an annual fixture at the women’s lacrosse semifinals. Five years later, however, No. 4 Syracuse (19-5) is still looking for its championship breakthrough on a national stage.
Four-time All-American Kayla Treanor (49 goals, 89 points) has experienced a sense of heartbreak the last three championship weekends, sandwiching semifinal setbacks around a loss to Maryland in the 2014 title contest. Sure enough, the No. 1 Terrapins await Syracuse again in the semifinals; former Terrapin assistant and current Syracuse head coach Gary Gait is 1-10 against his former team.
Regardless of what happens this weekend, it will do nothing to dilute the career of perhaps the best who ever played women’s lacrosse at Syracuse.
"If you're going to be a first-team All-American as a freshman, that's hard to do. Very few players pull that off, and they're usually very special players like Mikey Powell,'' Gait said. "It puts you in a unique class. It's just an honor for us to have coached her, to be a part of it. Her legacy will go on here for a long, long time.''
4. UNC keeping its McCool
As a rookie last spring, Marie McCool established herself as one of the game’s top young players. This season the sophomore midflelder shed the “young” label en route to earning first-team All-American honors for No. 3 North Carolina (18-2), which will face unseeded Penn State in the semifinals.
All McCool can think about is last year’s 9-8 loss to No. 1 Maryland in the championship game after the Tar Heels controlled the action in the first half.
"I’m really excited,” McCool, who hails from 15 minutes outside of Philadelphia, told goheels.com. “We have unfinished business in Philly. Another really exciting part about it is that I’m from that area, so it’s really exciting to go home."
McCool is one of North Carolina’s talented offensive weapons. Five players have produced 50 or more points, including fellow All-Americans Molly Hendrick (55 goals), Sammy Jo Tracy (38 goals, 58 points) and Aly Messinger (31 goals, 59 points).
5. Penn State’s dynamic one-two punch
Before blowing up its portion of the bracket, unseeded Penn State (14-6) had not reached the national semifinals since 1999. Thanks to All-Americans Madison Cyr (57 goals, 80 points) and Steph Lazo (33 goals, 37 assists) leading the way in victories over No. 2 Florida and seventh-seeded Penn, the Nittany Lions are confident they can do even more damage.
"The timing is perfect, happening our senior year. We just want to stay here as long as we can," Cyr told gopsusports.com.
Penn State came within one victory of the semifinals in 2013 and 2015 – the latter serving as a preview for this season as Cyr and Lazo combined for 79 goals.
Now they are one of the nation’s most dynamic scoring duos, combing for eight goals and seven assists in the Nittany Lions’ two NCAA triumphs. If they can continue this, Penn State may make more noise this weekend.