JU seeks first-ever conference championship
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Winning the regular season conference championship fulfilled one season-long goal for the JU women’s lacrosse team. The Dolphins will now take aim at its first National Lacrosse Conference Tournament title, beginning on Friday at 11:30 a.m. when top-seeded JU faces eighth-seeded Howard in a quarterfinal matchup at Davidson’s Richardson Stadium.
The Dolphins enter with a 12-4 overall record and a 7-0 regular season mark in NLC play.Â Head coach Mindy McCord’s team will look to extend its eight-game winning streak and post the three victories in three days required for the tournament champion. Â
The quarterfinal contest will mark the third all-time meeting between JU and Howard (3-11, 0-7). The Dolphins got the better of the Bison on April 9 with a 22-6 victory in Washington, D.C. JU also won the first game between the schools, posting a 20-5 win at home in 2010 at the Ashley Sports Complex.
“We’re excited about the season we’ve had so far and our players are enthusiastic about finishing strong,” McCord said. “In a conference championship, it’s a new season and everybody has a chance. That’s what makes it so exciting.”
In just the second year of the program, the Dolphins have dominated conference opponents in earning the first regular season crown in school history. In seven NLC games, the Dolphins out-scored opponents, 139-51. Against Presbyterian, JU scored 11 goals in the first half and 13 in the second half to crack the 20-goal plateau for the fifth time this season.
Leading the high-octane offense is freshman Morgan Derner, who has put herself in contention for the league’s “Player of the Year” award in just her first season of collegiate action. The attacker became the first 40-goal scorer and the first Dolphin to crack 50 points in a season, posting a team-leading 52 in just 14 games.
Despite missing two games with an illness, Derner’s 40 goals are 14 more than the next closest teammate. In the last six games in which she’s played, Derner has 26 points and 24 goals, including a five-goal, two-assist effort in the regular season finale against Presbyterian. Derner joined Cassie Campasano as the only players in JU history to even score 30 goals in a season.
Â But Derner is just one of 11 double-digit goal scorers on the JU roster with two others at nine goals. The Dolphins 10 players reach that plateau in 2010.
Augmenting Derner’s scoring ability is Amanda Hurley. The attacker entered 2011 as JU’s leading returning scorer after tallying 29 goals as a freshman in 2010. She eased her way into the lineup with a slew of new faces this year before showing her first-year form with a five-goal outburst against Fresno State.
Hurley enters the postseason as one of JU’s hottest scorers, carrying in a five-game goal scoring streak that includes 16 goals and 18 points during that stretch. She has 10 goals in her last two games alone for 26 total on the season, trailing only Derner for the team lead.
The quick-strike offense has also been boosted by an opportunistic defense. JU forced 11 turnovers in the last game against Presbyterian, bringing the season total up to 145. Opposing teams have caused just 107 turnovers, giving JU
a plus-38 differential.
Sophomore defender Rachel Hannon has exemplified that aggressive mentality, registering a team-leading 19 caused turnovers and tying Kaitlin Stewart for the second-most groundballs with 26. Junior Jessica Hotchkiss has also joined Hannon in starting the bulk of the games on the backline. Hotchkiss has accumulated 12 caused turnovers and 20 ground balls through the first 16 games.
Â With all facets of the game playing at a high level, the Dolphins will look to get pas a struggling Howard unit that will be looking to snap an eight-game losing streak and get hot at the right time in the single-elimination NLCTournament.
The Bison defense will look to improve after allowing 19 or more goals in four of the last five games. Howard was out-scored by a combined 42-20 in the last two games. But the team has an outstanding offensive threat in senior Desiree Cox, who scored 43 goals and logged 45 points.
Cox is tied for the third-most career points (281) out of all the active Division I players. The midfielder also has 254 career goals, trailing only Louisville’s Bergan Foley by six for the most among active players.
Â Sophomore goalie Karli Tobin will be charged with curtailing Cox and the rest of the Bison. Tobin has started all 16 games for the Dolphins, logging a .435 save percentage and a 9.45 goals-against-average. Tobin will likely oppose Howard netminder Amber Meeks, who is 3-10 with a .405 save percentage and a 17.18 goals against-average. The Bison give up an average of 17.30 goals per game while averaging only 8.09 goals.
“Howard is a very athletic team,” McCord said. “They have hard-working players and I expect nothing less from them this time. They are going to take what they learned from our previous game and give us a tough challenge. Overall, we’re prepared for some strong competition.” Â
JU has rocketed up the national leaderboards in many offensive statistical categories. The Dolphins entered April 17 third in Division I in total points, tallying 333 in trailing only Maryland and Duke. JU’s average of 15.94 goals per game ranked fourth, as did the team’s 6.56 scoring margin.
The Dolphins also made top-20 ratings in defensive categories as well, coming in 20th with 9.06 caused turnovers per game and fourth at 20.75 ground balls a contest. By allowing 9.38 goals per game, the Dolphins also boast the country’s 23rd-rated scoring defense. JU is also 195-for-229 on clears this year, logging a .852 percentage that is 64 points higher than its opponents’ average (.852).
The first in-season RPI poll of 2011 placed JU 41st nationally. That marks a step up from where the Dolphins finished its inaugural season. JU concluded its 2010 season with a 75 RPI, marking a 34-team improvement. The Dolphins enter the NLCTournament with the highest RPI in the eight-team conference.
Â Fans who cannot make it out to Davidson, N.C. can view the game through a live stream. Live stats will also be available for free.