Missy Doherty’s 11th-ranked Nittany Lions are hungry for hardware, and their journey to the 2016 NCAA Women’s Lacrosse National Championship continues on Friday at 5 p.m. in Chester, Pa., with a highly-anticipated Final Four tilt against the ACC champs — No. 3 North Carolina.
The Nittany Lions last reached the Final Four in 1999, but haven’t brought home a national title since winning two in a three-year span (1987 and 1989) nearly three decades ago.
How They Got Here
Penn State will take the field at Talen Energy Stadium, home of the Philadelphia Union (MLS), hoping to avenge its heartbreaking loss to the Tar Heels in last year’s Elite Eight. Friday’s rematch should feature plenty of offense. Both squads find the back of the net with regularity.
After receiving a first-round bye as one of the top six seeds in the field, North Carolina (18-2, 7-0 ACC) dismantled bitter rival Duke 15-10 to reach the Elite Eight, where it blew by No. 6 seed Notre Dame 10-6. Penn State (14-6, 3-2 Big Ten) picked up an at-large bid despite losing 9-6 to Northwestern in the Big Ten Tournament Semifinals. The Nittany Lions have done more than prove the doubters wrong, however, as their run to the Final Four featured a 16-6 shellacking of Winthrop before a magnificent 14-13 upset over regional host and No. 2 seed Florida in Gainesville.
Penn State returned home to University Park for the Elite Eight and doubled up in-state foe and No. 7 seed Penn 8-4 in a defensive battle. The Nittany Lions orchestrated an incredible 6-0 run in the first half to punch their ticket to Chester.
Cyr And Lazo Lead The Charge
The Nittany Lions are piloted by a pair of Maryland natives, as senior midfielder Madison Cyr and junior attacker Steph Lazo have been outstanding in the offensive third this season, earning second- and third-team IWCLA All-American status, respectively.
Cyr was also named one of 25 semifinalists for the prestigious Tewaaraton Award given annually to the nation’s top male and female collegiate lacrosse player, but wasn’t among the five finalists announced on May 15. Both have started all 20 games for Penn State and pace the Nittany Lions with 80 and 70 points apiece. Cyr holds a team-high 57 goals (23 assists), while Lazo owns the top mark for assists with 37 (33 goals). Big Ten Freshman of the Year Madison Carter, Katie O’Donnell, and Jenna Mosketti have all tallied solid numbers as well, with a combined 122 goals 14 assists. All of the above were named to the All-Big Ten Team, including defender Abby Smucker.
Smith Getting It Done Between The Pipes
Senior goalkeeper Emi Smith started each contest for the Nittany Lions in 2016, logging over 1,100 minutes in net. The Denver, Colo., native has faced 443 shots thus far thus far, making 143 saves and surrendering 181 goals. Penn State will rely on Smith’s calming, veteran presence to shut down the Tar Heels’ top-notch attack.
Scouting The Tar Heels
North Carolina captured its first and only national title in 2013. 2016 ACC Coach of the Year Jenny Levy persuaded Lancaster, Pa., standout Molly Hendrick to head south to Chapel Hill and the move has paid big-time dividends for both parties. Hendrick, a junior who played her prep lacrosse at Manheim Township, leads the Tar Heels with 55 goals on just 99 shots, while adding 12 assists.
Sophomore midfielder Marie McCool is already one of the top two-way players in all of Division I, and she further proved herself among the nation’s elite with 44 goals and 12 assists in her second year on campus. North Carolina goes with a by-committee approach in goal. Junior Caylee Waters has started in 14 of her 16 appearances, while senior Megan Ward has played in 14 contests with six starts. Waters posted 81 saves to 89 goals against and Ward recorded 73 saves to 75 goals against on their way to the Final Four.
Where/When/How To Watch?
If you aren’t making the trip to Talen Energy Stadium outside Philly, be sure to tune in to WatchESPN.com (select T.V. service provider required) at 5 p.m. ET for live coverage of Friday’s showdown between Penn State and North Carolina. We’re headed to Philly, so be sure to follow along with our coverage.
The winner will face either top-seeded Maryland (the 2015 National Champs) or No. 4 seed Syracuse, who will meet directly following the first matchup at 7:30 p.m. The Terrapins already have 12 national titles under their belts — the most of any program since the first official playing 1982 — and hope to complete another three-peat after winning in 2014-15.
Incredibly, Maryland boasts a pair of seniors — Taylor Cummings and Allie Mercer — who are among the five finalists for the 2016 Tewaaraton Award (the Heisman of women’s college lacrosse). Cummings, perhaps the sport’s most decorated athlete of all time, is in search of an unprecedented third-straight award on June 2. Syracuse senior attacker Kayla Treanor was also nominated.
Best of luck to all 30 Nittany Lions and the entire coaching staff as they prepare to put on a show and always make the Penn State community proud.