Season in Review: 2018 Lacrosse

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The 2018 season was the best thing that could have happened for women’s college lacrosse. Stony Brook—the undefeated America East champions—occupied the top spot of the Inside Lacrosse Poll for the final nine weeks of the regular season, overtaking 13-time national champion Maryland in the first month of the year. The parity and excitement only intensified come April. The NCAA Tournament featured a rematch of last year’s national title game, a “Cinderella” story, and last but certainly not least, a new champion—the first team not named North Carolina or Maryland to hoist the trophy in seven years.

Unfortunately for head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein and Co., Boston College (22-2, 7-0 Atlantic Coast) wasn’t the one to break the streak. In fact, the Eagles fell just short of their first title in program history when losing their second-straight National Championship—this time to James Madison—on May 27. With the exception of a late-game push, the second half of the title game—a period consisting of numerous BC turnovers and a 15-minute scoring drought—was one to forget. Holistically, though, the Eagles’ season, in tune with the sport, was the most memorable in the team’s 27-year existence.

Best Moment: Upsetting Top-Seeded Maryland in Final Four

BC’s three-goal defeat to UNC in the ACC title game not only spoiled the Eagles’ undefeated campaign, but it also drastically affected the regular season conference champions’ seeding. Rather than opening the NCAA Tournament as the No. 1 overall seed, BC dropped to the four spot, landing in the same side of the bracket as both Stony Brook and Maryland—two teams that could have just as easily won the National Championship. After riding Tess Chandler and  Kaileen Hart to the Elite Eight, the Eagles booked their ticket to their second-consecutive Final Four, all thanks to Dempsey Arsenault, who recorded an overtime, game-winning goal to cap BC’s three-goal comeback and eliminate Stony Brook from national title contention. Fittingly, the only program stopping the Eagles from returning to the National Championship was Maryland—the team that cut BC’s storybook season excruciatingly short the year prior.

For a while it appeared as if the Terrapins were about to deal the Eagles another gut-wrenching loss on the sport’s biggest stage—only this time, in blowout fashion. Maryland won the game’s first three draw controls and wasted no time in BC territory, scoring three-straight goals in the span of just two minutes and eight seconds. Quite simply, the Terrapins made the Eagles’ seventh-ranked defense look porous. By the midway point of the first frame, Maryland led, 6-2. That’s when the tables turned. Apuzzo jumpstarted a five-goal scoring spurt and, soon enough, what was a game of runs turned into a classic back-and-forth affair. The two star-studded teams entered the half tied at eight goals apiece and traded goals throughout the second period. Ultimately, Apuzzo took matters into her own hands, scoring the final two goals of the game to dethrone Maryland for the first time in program history and send BC back to the National Championship. After knocking off the Terrapins—a trial that Walker-Weinstein once equated to slaying a dragon—the Eagles were all but primed for a national title.

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Worst Moment: Losing the National Championship

It’s deflating enough to lose the National Championship. Falling short of the title in back-to-back years is excruciating beyond imagination. After the Eagles tackled both Stony Brook and Maryland, it appeared as if nothing could stop Apuzzo and Co. JMU—a 21-win team with the sixth-best defense in the NCAA—was no pushover. Given the circumstances, though, BC was the favorite heading into championship Sunday, despite the fact that the Dukes were the higher seed and two days removed from handily beating UNC. But less than five minutes into the game, JMU continued to prove the doubters wrong.

Right out of the gates, the Dukes scored two-straight goals—the first of which came just 17 seconds after the game’s opening draw control. Eventually, Arsenault found the back of the net to put BC on the board, but the goal hardly fazed JMU. It wasn’t until the Eagles found themselves down, 4-1, that they really snapped back into reality. They rattled off four goals in a row to first close the gap and then take the lead, practically mimicking the comeback they staged in their Final Four victory over Maryland. BC tallied the final two goals of the first period to tie the game, as well as the first two of the back half of play to vault itself itself into the driver’s seat. Soon enough, the Eagles’ turnover numbers skyrocketed and scoring production tanked. The Dukes turned a two-goal deficit into a three-goal advantage, dissipating any sort of momentum that BC had built after halftime. In a last-ditch effort to claim the title, the Eagles scored four goals in the final five minutes and nine seconds of regulation. A couple of JMU scoring plays were just enough to hold off Walker-Weinstein’s team. BC walked off the field to the blaring lyrics of “Who Let the Dogs Out,” pondering what could have been for the second-consecutive year.

Most Valuable Player: Sam Apuzzo

Last Thursday, Apuzzo was named the 2018 Tewaaraton Award winner, thereby garnering National Player of the Year honors. The announcement marked the first time in seven years that an attacker has earned the annual distinction and 13 years since a non-Maryland or Northwestern player has hoisted the trophy. She beat out the four other finalists—all of whom were seniors—including Stony Brook’s Kylie Ohlmiller, the NCAA’s all-time leading scorer. Even though Apuzzo was 28 points shy of Ohlmiller on the season scoring chart, her all-around game swayed voters. Of the five finalists, the junior was the only one to log at least 80 goals, 30 assists, and 100 draw controls during the 2018 campaign—she’s as complete a player as it gets. The West Babylon, N.Y. native picked up right where she left off during her sophomore season, tallying eight or more points in four of the first six games of the year—three of which were against top-20 opponents. As the year progressed, her stats fluctuated, due to occasional faceguarding, but she still managed to break the program’s single-season scoring record that she set the year before.

Most Improved Player: Dempsey Arsenault

Dempsey Arsenault spent the majority of her underclassmen years on the defensive end of the field. As a result, the midfielder only recorded a total of 25 points during her first two years at BC. With the departure of graduating seniors Kate Weeks and Mary Kate O’Neill, Walker-Weinstein asked Arsenault to take on a bigger role in 2018, and boy did she live up to the task. Although initially hesitant, the junior logged more and more shots on a game-to-game basis, upping her offensive aggression along the way. After scoring just three goals in the first two games of the season, she tallied 17 in the ensuing four, totaling 26 points in that span. Arsenault teamed up with Apuzzo to establish a one-two-punch that was one of, if not the, best in the ACC. When Apuzzo was faceguarded, and the team needed someone to get on the board, Arsenault was typically the one to right the ship. She also saved the Eagles’ season with the overtime game-winner against Stony Brook that sent BC back to the Final Four. By the end of the year, the top-25 Tewaaraton Award nominee had eclipsed the 100-point mark and clearly earned national respect.

Top Three Plays of the Year:

1. Apuzzo’s Ankle-Breaking Goal Vs. Maryland

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This year’s National Semifinal between Maryland and BC featured a pair of ankle-breaking plays. Luckily for the Eagles, they were on the better half of both of the highlight-reel goals. Cara Urbank foreshadowed what was to come in the final stages of regulation. With under nine minutes to go and the game tied at 13 goals apiece, Apuzzo veered left, spun, backtracked to the right, and immediately pivoted, breaking Terrapins midfielder Grace Griffin’s ankles. Naturally, she capped the SportsCenter Top-10 play with a shot fake and a near-post goal while falling backwards.

2. Apuzzo’s Last-Second Game-Winner Vs. Syracuse

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The Eagles took a commanding three-score, second-half lead over Syracuse in the regular season finale before being held to just one goal over the course of the next 25 minutes. The Orange capitalized, turning the multi-goal deficit into a one-score advantage. But, in the final three minutes of regulation, Apuzzo netted two goals, including a fadeaway game-winner with 1.7 seconds remaining in the game. The dramatic scoring play preserved BC’s perfect record and clinched the program’s first-ever ACC regular season title.

3. Emma Schurr’s Behind-the-Back Goal Vs. Navy

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Apuzzo was the star of the Eagles’ 2017 Final Four rematch—after all, the junior notched nine goals, breaking BC’s single-game record in the process. Yet it was Emma Schurr who stole the spotlight in the early portion of the second period. Nearing the 23-minute mark, Arsenault completed a give-and-go exchange with Apuzzo and danced in and out of the 18, eying a cutting Schurr. As the senior attacker was streaking across the cage, Arsenault delivered the pass, and Schurr finished on the run with a behind-the-back shot that rifled past Navy goalkeeper Ingrid Boyum.

Achilles’ Heel: Extended Scoring Droughts

The Eagles ended the season with the 12th-highest scoring offense in the country. Seven players recorded at least 20 goals on the season and three logged 85 or more points. At times, the attack was unstoppable, as evidenced by BC’s six 19-plus goal games. That said, the Eagles were still vulnerable—very much so toward the end of the 2018 campaign. It wasn’t long before teams began to faceguard Apuzzo. The defensive tactic forced other Eagles, like Arsenault, Hart, and Chandler to rise to the occasion. Usually, BC’s depth was more than enough to account for Apuzzo’s “absence.” But the few times that it failed to keep pace with its opponent, the Eagles suffered, big-time. As mentioned above, BC only scored one goal in the span of 25 minutes of the second half of its regular season finale against Syracuse. When playing UNC in the ACC Championship, the Eagles were silenced for a pair of 10-minute stretches. Last, but certainly not least, Walker-Weinstein’s team was limited to just one scoring play over the course of 21 minutes in the second half of the National Championship. BC dropped two out of those three games and nearly lost the third. As good as the Eagles’ offense was this season, it could disappear in a heartbeat.

What’s Next?

In a mere six years, Walker-Weinstein has transformed the program. BC is no longer a mediocre ACC team—it’s a perennial contender. Coming into this season, the Eagles were expected to make another National Championship run, and they did just that. Although BC loses Chandler and Hart—both team captains—as well as the Schurr sisters and a few other marquee players like defender Carly Bell, it returns its top-two leading scorers, Kenzie Kent—who redshirted this past season—Elizabeth Miller, and a host of other valuable contributors. Add the incoming recruits into the mix, and you have another star-studded team. The Eagles could very well make it all the way back to the Final Four and even the national title game in 2019. The question remains if they can win it all.

Featured Image by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

About Andy Backstrom 277 Articles
Andy is the sports editor of The Heights. He is from the suburbs of Philly, but has been an Arizona Cardinals enthusiast since the first grade. Every so often, he'll replay Super Bowl XLIII on Madden to exact revenge on his father's beloved Steelers. You can follow him on Twitter @AndyHeights.