Spring, Lacrosse, Column

Without a Doubt, Lacrosse Deserves Coveted No. 1 Ranking

Sam Apuzzo made history on Thursday night, and she did it while falling on her back. With the clock winding down in Boston College lacrosse’s regular season finale against Syracuse, the junior received a pass from Taylor Walker, immediately turned, faked out both Ella Simkins and Orange goaltender Asa Goldstock, and whipped an off-balanced shot into the left-corner of the net. After hitting the ground, Apuzzo flipped over onto her stomach, and slapped her hand against the ground in jubilation before being swarmed by her teammates.

The split-second goal—scored with just 1.7 ticks remaining in the game—broke a 12-12 tie, all but guaranteeing the Eagles a perfect 17-0 record and the outright ACC regular season title. Not only that, but it gave Apuzzo her 15 seconds of fame the next day on SportsCenter’s Top 10.

bc lacrosse

For the first time in program history, BC is entering the ACC Tournament as the No. 1 seed. Dating back to 2017, head coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein’s team has won 21 of its last 22 games and is currently looking down at the rest of the country in the NCAA’s RPI rankings. Still, it appears as if it hasn’t earned everyone’s respect: As of Sunday, BC has yet to overtake Stony Brook as the top team in the Inside Lacrosse Poll—the sport’s equivalent to football and basketball’s AP Poll—despite terrorizing the best conference in college lacrosse. Although the Seawolves—the only other undefeated team in the nation—have the Eagles beat on paper, it’s time for the voters to hand over the keys to a team that truly deserves the No. 1 ranking.

Ever since reigning national champion Maryland lost to North Carolina in overtime back on Feb. 24, Stony Brook has made a home for itself atop the weekly poll. To the casual sports fan, it might look a little odd to see a team from the American East holding down the fort, day in and day out, but it shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.

The Seawolves are five-time defending conference champions and have booked a trip to each of the past five NCAA Tournaments. Not to mention that in every one of those seasons, they have won 17 or more games. Last year, Stony Brook eclipsed the 20-win mark for the first time in program history, prior to falling to the eventual national champions in the Elite Eight by one goal. But this year, head coach Joe Spallina’s team has taken its game to another level.

Unlike BC, Stony Brook has yet to complete its regular season, but has already compiled seven victories over top-25 opponents—that said, only three of them have been ranked 15th or higher. Still, the reason why the Seawolves turned heads in the winter was largely due to the fact that they knocked off four-straight ranked teams to kick of the 2018 campaign. And they did so in dominant fashion: Stony Brook outscored the likes of Southern California, Stanford, Denver, and Northwestern, 60-32. The crazy thing is, the American East representative was on the road for three of those four games.

As far as numbers go, the Seawolves’ season has been just as remarkable since then. Stony Brook is posting 17.29 goals per game—second among all Division I teams—and only allowing 6.07 on the other side of the field, 1.64 less than every other team in the country. Additionally, the Seawolves lead the nation in shot percentage, fewest turnovers, points per game, and scoring margin—winning games by an average of 11.21 goals, Stony Brook has found the back of the net 20 or more times in a single contest on six separate occasions this season. Individually, the Seawolves are equally productive.

Kylie Ohlmiller, the country’s leading scorer, has tallied 111 points this year—12 more than Apuzzo, even though she’s played two games less than the Eagles attacker. Her sister, Taryn Ohlmiller, isn’t too far behind either—the sophomore has racked up 76 points this season, sneaking her way into the nation’s top-15 scoring ranks. Overall, Stony Brook has three top-15 scorers and another that’s on pace to log at least 40 goals by the year’s end.

Since the first week of March, Stony Brook has simply been riding the wave, rolling through conference play for the seventh year in a row. The Seawolves haven’t lost an American East game in five years and are 39-2 against conference opponents since 2012. As mind boggling as that statistic might be, it’s even more telling of Stony Brook’s tainted resume.

bc lacrosse

In terms of RPI, the Seawolves drop all the way to No. 8 in the nation. That’s staggering in itself, but what’s even more shocking is the fact that they are only ones in the conference that rank inside the top 50. To put that in perspective, no ACC teams can be found outside the top 50—in fact, four have cracked the top 20, more than any conference in the sport. Just to be clear, RPI stands for rating percentage index—it’s a calculated measure that weighs a team’s winning percentage, its opponents’ winning percentage, and the winning percentage of those opponents’ opponents. Essentially, the metric system factors in strength of schedule when sorting the top teams in the country.  

In a way, Stony Brook’s hands are tied. It can’t do anything about the American East’s lack of talent or prestige. But the Seawolves’ performance in the NCAA Tournament just goes to show that they’re regular season domination hasn’t translated to the Big Dance. In its five tournament appearances, Stony Brook has posted a .500 record and only reached the Elite Eight once, despite entering the field with a seed two of the past three years.

As expected, the Seawolves have had no trouble downing teams like Towson and Bryant. But when it comes to the big boys, Stony Brook has barely anything to brag about. Of its five NCAA Tournament wins, three have come against non-Power Five opponents. Even worse, it’s a combined 1-4 versus ACC/Big Ten teams. Interestingly enough, the Seawolves’ lone victory was against BC back in 2016—it’s worth noting, though, that the Eagles were in the midst of their worst season in the Walker-Weinstein era.  

There’s no question that Stony Brook is one of the best teams in the sport, but its strength of schedule and continued struggles in May should serve as a cause for concern. Even when simply considering the season at hand—what media voters do on a weekly basis—it’s still pretty clear that the Eagles are the frontrunners. Just look at who they’ve been up against.

Over the course of the past 35 years that the NCAA has crowned a national champion in women’s lacrosse, the ACC has claimed 14 titles, more than any other league in the country. Granted, Maryland—now in the Big Ten—won 11 of those, it still speaks to the conference’s heavyweight standing. At the moment, six of the eight ACC teams are ranked somewhere inside the top 20, and Duke is listed in the receiving votes section of the poll. Syracuse alone is a perfect exemplification of the conference: The Orange is a mediocre 8-8 and a meager 0-6 in league play, but still finds itself as the No. 19 team in the country—one that nearly upset BC this past week.

bc lacrosse

Game by game, the Eagles have plowed through the conference, picking off opponents, one by one. Defeating ACC foes—including UNC for the first time since 2015—by an average of 4.71 goals per game, BC quickly rose to the top of the conference standings. The Eagles, who hadn’t finished the season with a winning ACC record in four years, set a new program mark with seven conference victories.

Outside the ACC, BC lived up to its reputation, beating four ranked opponents, notably USC and Navy—teams that the Eagles eliminated last year en route to the National Championship. All in all, the Eagles’ 10 victories over ranked opponents, three more than Stony Brook, are more than enough to the tip scale. It’s not like BC is terribly far behind the Seawolves statistically either.

Apuzzo’s accomplishments are well documented. The selfless junior leads the team with 99 points, including 31 assists. Dempsey Arsenault and Kaileen Hart—who come in at 12th and 27th, respectively, on the nation’s scoring chart, round out a three-headed monster that rivals the best scoring attacks in the country. Throw in Tess Chandler, Emma Schurr, and Walker, and you have six players on the roster with 15 or more goals, two more than the Seawolves. Even without Kenzie Kent, who is redshirting her senior season to play a full 2019 campaign, the Eagles’ offense is as versatile, if not more so, than it was a year ago.

As a whole, BC’s 17 wins are five more than every other team in the league and two more than anyone else in the country. Without skipping a beat, Walker-Weinstein has transformed a playoff run into long lasting success. In just two seasons, the sixth-year coach has rebranded the program.

Who knows, maybe the Eagles will meet Stony Brook in the title game. Yet, for now, BC—last year’s Cinderella—is undoubtedly the best team, not only in college lacrosse’s most distinguished conference, but the entire nation.

Featured Image by Andy Backstrom / Heights Editor

Photo and Graphic by Bradley Smart and Nicole Chan / Heights Editors

April 22, 2018

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