The NCAA women's lacrosse Final Four features two schools that know their way to championship weekend. Top-seeded Maryland, which has won three of the past seven NCAA titles, is a national semifinalist for the ninth consecutive season. Penn State, the runner-up to Maryland during the Big Ten's regular season, has won two NCAA championships and is making its second straight Final Four appearance.
But the 2017 Final Four, which will be held at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., May 26 and May 28, will have a new look. Navy and Boston College are in the national semifinals for the first time and have the opportunity to win a title that has belonged to only Maryland, North Carolina, Northwestern, Virginia and Princeton during the past 26 years.
The season's final weekend will also reunite four head coaches with close personal ties. Navy head coach Cindy Timchal coached Maryland coach Cathy Reese, Penn State coach Missy Doherty and Boston College coach Acacia Walker during her 16 seasons as head coach at Maryland.
Maryland (21-0) vs. Penn State (17-3)
May 26, 5 p.m.
Maryland, the nation's only undefeated team, is making its record 28th straight tournament appearance.
The Terps got to Foxborough by beating High Point, 21-6, and rallying from a four-goal second-half deficit to edge Stony Brook, 13-12. The Terps and Penn State are meeting for the 54th time in series history. Head coach Cathy Reese's squad edged the host Nittany Lions, 16-14, during their most recent matchup April 20.
The Terps, the nation's top-scoring team at 16.86 goals per game, are led by junior Megan Whittle (66 goals, 14 assists). The offensive unit also includes senior Caroline Wannen (33, 37), sophomore Caroline Steele (49, 12) and junior Taylor Hensh (28, eight). Senior Zoe Stukenberg (50, 26), who is one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award, leads a Terps midfield that has received major contributions from freshman Kali Hartshorn (52 goals, 11 assists, 96 draw controls) and sophomore Jen Giles (35 goals, 27 assists).
Sophomore goalkeeper Megan Taylor (9.2 goals-against average, .541 save percentage) and senior Tewaaraton Award finalist Nadine Hadnagy (24 caused turnovers) lead a defensive unit that limited Stony Brook to four goals below its season average.
Penn State, which posted NCAA Tournament victories against James Madison (19-14) and Princeton (14-12), will counter with two of the game's best attackers. Senior Steph Lazo (45 goals, 42 assists) and sophomore Madison Carter (69, 11) will lead a Nittany Lions offense that has averaged 14.7 goals per game. Head coach Missy Doherty also gets solid production from her midfield, with juniors Katie O'Donnell (61, six) and Maggie Gallagher (20, 16) and senior Abby Smucker (22, 10) leading the way. Senior goalkeeper Cat Rainone (10.3 goals-against average, .479 save percentage) leads the defense.
"Penn State has a really strong offense, and their goalie has been hot lately," Reese said. "We're going to have to fight hard from start to finish."
Navy (18-4) vs. Boston College (16-6)
May 26, 7:30 p.m.
The Navy program, which is in its 10th season in existence, had never advanced past the NCAA Tournament's second round. The Midshipmen take a nine-game winning streak into their semifinal battle with Boston College.
The Midshipmen and Eagles will be meeting for the second time this season. Boston College scored a 20-11 victory at Navy March 4.
Navy has blossomed in the postseason. The Midshipmen started their memorable run during the Patriot League Tournament, with a 9-8 win against Lehigh and a 15-5 victory against conference regular-season champion Loyola. Navy continued the surge with an 11-10 victory at No. 7 seed Penn and a 23-11 rout of UMass. The Midshipmen overcame a three-goal second-half deficit at defending NCAA champion North Carolina to stun the second-seeded Tar Heels, 16-14, in the quarterfinals.
Navy, which set school single-season records for goals, assists and points, is averaging 15.59 goals per game. Junior midfielder Jenna Collins has produced a team-leading 71 goals and 111 points. The real find has been freshman attacker Kelly Larkin, who has totaled 48 goals and a team-best 54 assists.
The attack unit also includes senior Morgan Young (52, 25) and junior Julia Collins (46 goals, 26 assists, 112 draw controls). Sophomores Meg O'Donnell (48 goals, seven assists) and Andie O'Sullivan (33, 12) are standouts in the Navy midfield.
Junior goalkeeper Ingrid Boyum (9.54 goals-against average, .399 save percentage), who stopped 11 North Carolina shots, has been capably supported by a defensive unit led by junior Blake Smith (37 caused turnovers).
While none of the Navy players have been to a Final Four, their head coach knows the territory well. Cindy Timchal guided Maryland to 12 Final Four appearances and eight NCAA championships.
Navy's next challenge is a Boston College team that went 3-4 during the Atlantic Coast Conference regular season and lost in the ACC Tournament semifinals but has caught fire during its NCAA run. The Eagles, who average 15.6 goals per game, defeated Canisius, 21-9, and host Syracuse, 21-10, to earn a quarterfinal date with Southern California. The Eagles secured their first Final Four trip with a 20-14 victory against the visiting Trojans.
Sophomore midfielder Sam Apuzzo (74 goals, 37 assists, 59 draw controls) leads the Boston College offense, which also gets major contributions from the starting attack unit of senior Kate Weeks (72 goals, 26 assists), junior Kaileen Hart (47, 24) and senior Kayla O'Connor (44, 24). Senior Zoe Ochoa (13.2 goals-against average) and sophomore Lauren Daly (10.9) are the Eagles' goalkeepers.
"Both teams have really played well since we faced each other [in March]," Timchal said. "Our team has prepared well for each opponent, and our players are making the right decisions at the right time."