When the Boston College women’s lacrosse program won its first-ever national title two years ago with a 16-10 victory over Syracuse, it was offense that secured the victory. The Eagles used their tenaciousness to outscore the fast Orange, 7-2, in the final 30 minutes on the way to their six-goal win.
Women’s lacrosse seems to thrive on rematches, and that is certainly the case this weekend, when BC (18-3) again will face Syracuse on what it hopes will be the path to a national championship. The Eagles play the Orange (18-2) in the NCAA semifinals Friday at 5:30 p.m. in Cary, N.C., with a berth in Sunday’s championship game on the line.
But unlike that 2021 title game, BC’s defense could be the difference-maker this time around. Luckily for them, the Eagles are playing some of their best defense at just the right time.
“We have an incredibly experienced and talented defensive unit,” said BC coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein. “I think they all are really jelling well and coming together during this really important stage of the season.”
A 20-6 drubbing of Notre Dame last Thursday in the quarterfinals earned the Eagles their sixth consecutive trip to Final Four weekend, but it also was a perfect example of how their defense has evolved over a gauntlet of a schedule. Both players and coaches point to a better level of communication as being the key improvement.
“It’s such a special thing to have such a great connection with your whole defensive unit,” said junior defender Hunter Roman. “From the middies to the defense to our obviously star goaltender, we are playing for each other and stay locked in.”
In recent years, BC’s offense received much of the acclaim, thanks to the graduated Charlotte North, considered the sport’s best-ever playmaker, and other high-powered scorers such as current graduate student Jenn Medjid, who has 77 goals and 23 assists this season.
Roman, however, has been key to bringing the team’s defensive unit into the spotlight. With her head on a swivel, she has the ability to read the field and consistently be at the right place to scoop up a ground ball or pressure a turnover. The USA Lacrosse All-American has 30 ground balls and 25 caused turnovers on the season, and her leadership with the unit might be shining most late in the season.
“We take notes on if we are winning a quarter or if we are losing a quarter,” said Roman. “That’s how we stay locked in all game.”
ACC Defender of the Year Sydney Scales is another key component. The Walpole High grad leads the squad in caused turnovers (33) and ground balls (37), making her the only player in the best lacrosse conference in the nation with at least 30 in each category. Her ability to bounce back from mistakes and glean from them ways to defend an opponent was evident in a second-round win against Penn.
It’s been a group effort in the tournament, however, which showed in seven players causing turnovers against Notre Dame. Among them was grad student defender Melanie Welch, who has five ground balls and three caused turnovers since the late April start of the ACC tournament.
While the defensive unit is creating chaos for opposing teams, freshman goalie Shea Dolce has emerged as a calm presence. Considered the top goalie recruit in this year’s rookie class, Dolce has lived up to expectations and then some, with 14 victories and ACC tournament MVP accolades.
Even when Penn played the Eagles tightly, Dolce didn’t flinch, doing her part to withstand late pressure. In games where she hasn’t seen many shots, such as last week against Notre Dame, she is eager to step up and help her team in any way.
“I kept communicating to my teammates,” said Dolce. “Even though I wasn’t getting many shots, I was trying to do everything I could in the clear with communication and I stayed locked in.”
Her eagerness has been evident to her coach, and it speaks to the work ethic the program prides itself in.
“She’s very mature,” said Walker-Weinstein. “She’s very calm. She’s very confident in herself because of her level of preparation. I mean, the kid works harder than anybody else on the team.”
Dolce and her defense will need to be on the top of their game against Syracuse, a team with scoring powerhouses such as Meaghan Tyrrell, an All-American who ranks second in the nation with 5.35 points per game and is the first player in the program’s storied history to reach the 400-point mark.
The Orange’s leading goal scorer, Megan Carney (58), and the nation’s second-best in assists, Emma Ward (56), pace a team that has scored more than 17 goals in eight games this season.
Syracuse also has insight into BC’s inner workings, as Orange coach Kayla Treanor was an assistant in Chestnut Hill from 2017-21, including three NCAA title-game appearances.
Despite Syracuse’s formidable offense, BC edged out a 17-16 victory in the last game of the regular season, handing the Orange their first loss of the season. The Eagles used that win to silence the doubters who thought the graduation of North signaled the end of their lacrosse dynasty.
They now have won their first-ever ACC championship and make yet another Memorial Day weekend trip to the sport’s pinnacle. Getting to Sunday’s title game won’t be easy, but the Eagles have definitely put in the work.
“Our players are expected to work the hardest they have ever worked,” said Walker-Weinstein. “We are not taking our foot off the gas, and in terms of preparation, our team knows that we’ve got to be ready for a very deep, very skilled, very well-coached, very talented, very hungry Syracuse team.”
Women’s lacrosse Final Four
When: Friday and Sunday
Where: WakeMed Soccer Park, Cary, NC
Semifinal matchups: Northwestern vs. Denver, 3 p.m.; Boston College vs. Syracuse, 5:30 p.m.
Final: Sunday, noon
Kat Cornetta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.