The two most prolific offenses in women's lacrosse will clash on Saturday when the third-ranked Boston College Eagles take on the #5/4 Duke Blue Devils at 1 PM on Newton Campus. The game will be the Eagles' Red Bandana Game with the team sporting special socks, headbands, and shooter tees in honor of Welles Crowther.
In order to get you ready, let's take a look at some of the key matchups and storylines heading into the game:
Supreme Overlord of the Atlantic Coast
Any time you have two top-five teams bearing down on each other, it becomes a compelling storyline. That these two teams are tied at the top of the league standings makes it even more important. As it stands right now in the ACC, the Eagles and Blue Devils are tied for first at 4-1 with North Carolina a half game back at 3-1. Virginia is 1.5 games back at 2-2, with the rest of the league shaking down accordingly.
Since all eight teams make the conference tournament, this becomes a huge game because of its downstream impact. BC owns the head-to-head tiebreaker over the Tar Heels by virtue of their 10-9 overtime win on March 21st. With Duke having yet to play UNC (they meet in the last game before the ACC Tournament), a win can put the Eagles in the driver's seat for the top seed. And by driver's seat I mean they would only lose the ACC regular season crown with a monumental collapse against Virginia Tech, the league's last place team.
Attack, Attack, Attack
Two of the nation's best offenses meet up, which in women's lacrosse goes a long way to determining how good your team really is. Boston College is 10th best in the nation with an average of 14.42 goals per game, but Duke is right behind them, 15th best at 13.58 goals per game.
Some of the best scorers in the nation will be involved on the pitch in this one. Mikaela Rix is third in the nation with 40 goals, and Covie Stanwick and Caroline Margolis are the leading scorers for BC with 48 points. All were named Mid-Season All Americans, along with Sarah Mannelly.
Duke counters with Kerrin Maurer's 26 goals and 22 assists through 12 games. They then drop off to Brigid Smith, whose 35 points seems pedestrian compared to the rest of the company on the field, doesn't it? She has 23 goals and 12 helpers on the year.
Control The Midfield, Control The Game
Lacrosse is different from other sports in the sense that defense doesn't win championships. Instead, it's a game where matches are won by controlling the center of the field in between the restraining lines. More often than not, the best players are the best conditioned, and the stats that you're not aware of—ground balls, draw controls, and clears—become central focal points towards helping goals and assists.
This is where things are going to get interesting. Duke is substantially better than BC at controlling ground balls, entering the game with a 197-173 advantage. That means that passing and fundamentals become almost imperative for the Eagles in order to control the middle of the field. Dropped balls or loose balls that become ground ball controls need to be avoided.
Kelsey Duryea is a complete machine in this regard with 27 ground balls on the season. Claire Scarrone and Kyra Harney also lead the Blue Devils, who have eight players with 10 or more.
Ground balls can be created defensively when opposing offenses work into attacking zones. Being forced to keep the ball around the perimeter, the offense eventually has to work their way inside. When the defenders crash back and collapse onto the ball carrier, the attacker either has to force the ball into a bad spot or pull back out. Forcing into a bad spot inevitably leads to a drop and a ground ball opportunity.
As for draw controls, Kerrin Maurer's won 55 for the Dukies; she'll go up against Mikaela Rix's 46. The key here is to come away with the ball and set up a game of momentum. If you control the draws, you control the game flow and force the team to play more defense. Given the teams' ability to score, I don't think anyone wants to play defense for extended periods of time.
Take Your Position
One of the more quirky things about women's lacrosse is the concept of the free position. If a player is fouled in the area, all players must be at least four meters away from the player who had the ball. In minor fouls within the 12-meter fan, play resumes from the fan but, similar to an indirect kick, the attacking player can't shoot. When the attacker is fouled inside the critical scoring area, then they're awarded a penalty lane, which gives them a free path to the cage.
At least that's what my memory serves me.
Free positions are essentially free looks on net. Depending on the angle, they can be ultra easy to score in (coming right down the middle) or a little tougher (corner angle shots). A team able to defend these can save themselves three to four goals per game.
BC is very good on free positions, having gone 23-for-51 over the season to this point. That's matched by the Blue Devils' 28-for-63 (44%). The difference here for Duke is their ability to stop free positions; their opponents are 19-for-54 (35.2%). Avoiding fouls in the area for the Eagles is going to be huge, since they can't rely on free position scoring down the other end.
The Power of Welles
It's great whenever BC has a chance to honor Welles Crowther; we know that from football season.
There's something incredibly special whenever a lacrosse team dons the red bandana or honors him.
Welles Crowther was a lacrosse player for the Eagles when they still sponsored Division I lax within their athletic department. Since women's lacrosse is the last team standing at BC with that moniker (Division I lacrosse program), there's something about picking up the crosse and putting the bandana on. There's a power that comes with it, and there's something to connect the sport and the spirit of Welles through the competition on the field.
I can't speak enough of honoring him, and BC can never do enough for special occasions like this. Being able to do so in a nationally-competitive area with that type of atmosphere? It's going to be something else.