NORTHFIELD, Vt. - For the twelfth year in a row, the Norwich University women's lacrosse team will enter the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) playoffs, as they will take on the number one overall seeded Johnson & Wales Wildcats in the quarterfinal round this Saturday afternoon.
With a team comprised of just two seniors, Head Coach Heather Faasse has brought in some exciting young players in her second season with the team and managed to put up a 7-9 overall record and a 4-7 mark within the conference with four freshmen starting all 16 games.
On the other half of the field, Johnson & Wales continued to dominate the league with yet another spotless 9-0 record along with a 16-3 overall record. Their last conference loss came during the 2016 season, and they've rattled off 38 straight regular-season conference wins while picking up the last two conference titles along the way.
The Norwich offense begins and ends with their sophomore and freshman class. Combined, those two classes account for 75% (139/185) of the team's goals on the season.
Kate Winstanley leads the way with 36 goals on the season, while taking three games off to sub in as goalie for the Cadets. One of those three games included a record-breaking 24 save performance against Albertus Magnus in a 14-9 Norwich victory. With the exception of her time in goal, the freshman has scored in all but one game this year, including seven games with three or more goals.
Sophomore Emily Schromm paces the Cadets in points with 43 on the season and caused turnovers with 31 (third most in the conference). Her 66.7% success rate on free-position shots is the 16th best in NCAA DIII. In just two seasons she has already amassed 52 career goals and 22 assists. Her assists already rank her ninth all-time in program history, her 96 draw controls rank fifth all-time, and her career 2.64 points per game pace rank her seventh all-time.
Freshman Brynn Mendes has filled the stat sheet all season long, with extra emphasis in the draw circle. She tied and then broke the old single-game draw control record of 10 set in 2013, putting up game totals of 10 then 15 to rewrite the record book. Her 59 draw controls on the season leads the Cadets and ranks tenth in the conference. She has also amassed 24 goals, 11 assists, 39 groundballs, and 24 caused turnovers.
Netminding responsibility falls to junior captain Lawson Hayes, as she's played 781:57 in goal this year. Her goals against average (9.51) and total goals against (124) rank her third and fourth in the conference respectively.
The Norwich defense is anchored by senior team captain Ariana Lacombe, who after Saturday's contest will sit in third place all-time in both games played and games started. Along with standout freshman defenders Brittney Poljacik and Sara Marcotte and junior midfielder Mary-Kait Mace, the Cadets' defense ranks first in the conference in caused turnovers with 222 on the season.
Leading both the Wildcats and the GNAC in just about every offensive statistic, senior Allison Pazienski is where the potent JWU attack starts. A First-Team All-GNAC selection her junior year and a likely repeat winner this year, Pazienski has amassed 105 points on 84 goals and 21 assists this year. She's scored multiple goals in every single game this year, and put up back to back seven-goal games to close out the regular season.
It doesn't stop there for the Wildcats, as three of the top-five point totals in the conference belong to JWU. Sophomore Dani Lydecker, last year's conference Rookie of the Year, ranks third in the conference with 85 points via 49 goals and 36 assists, while junior Maria Patane sits just behind her with 84 points on 50 goals and 34 assists.
As a team, JWU leads the conference in goals, assists, shots, and draw controls, as well as the per-game statistic for all those categories.
The only aspect of the game the Wildcats don't dominate is in goaltending. Sophomore Cassidy O'Hara gets almost every minute in goal and has posted an impressive 9-3 record. However, she ranks 10th in the conference in save percentage at 41.9% and 11th with just 83 total saves on the year.
Head Coach Jessica Scannapieco has been a force in the conference, picking up a Coach of the Year award, 10 All-Conference recognitions for her team, and a conference championship in her first year on the job in 2018.
The Cadets and Wildcats have faced off six times in their histories, with JWU holding a commanding 5-1 advantage so far. This year's regular season contest went the JWU by a 19-5 final score in Northfield, Pazienski scored six goals for JWU and Missy Preul notched two goals to lead Norwich.
The two teams have never met in the playoffs. Norwich is 12-12 all-time in the postseason, losing their last five postseason games. During the program's four conference title runs from 2008-2012, the Cadets went 10-6 in the playoffs, but since then have gone 2-6. Their last playoff win came in 2014.
KEYS TO THE GAME
When asked what the Cadets needed to do to pull off the upset, Coach Faasse pointed to her team's defensive effort. "Not only as individuals, but can we play together and stick to the defensive gameplan as a unit is the question we need to answer," she stated. The Norwich defense rank 20th in all of Division III in caused turnovers per game, and five of the top-16 individual caused turnovers figures in the conference belong to a Norwich player, as Schromm, Marcotte, Mendes, Mace, and Lacombe all rank near the top of the GNAC. Facing off against an offense that ranks first in NCAA DIII in shots, seventh in goals per game, and ninth in points per game, for Norwich to pull off the upset it will look to its defense to step up in a major way.
1:00 PM, April 27th | Providence, Rhode Island
#8 Norwich University at #1 Johnson & Wales University