Lacrosse, Column, Sports

With UNC Win, It’s Clear BC Has Displayed Improvement

Coming off two straight losses in the National Championship, Boston College lacrosse has been a dominant force in the NCAA this year. Besides two close contests against Syracuse and Southern California, BC has steamrolled its opponents to the tune of a perfect 11-0 record, with the latest victim No. 3 North Carolina. Having only won once in Chapel Hill, N.C.—a double-overtime victory back in 2015—the Eagles found themselves in a difficult environment as they sought to avenge their loss to Tar Heels last year in the ACC Championship, a setback that tainted what was a perfect season up to that point.

Jamie Ortega’s goal in the first minute and a half gave UNC the early lead, but it was all BC the rest of the way. The Eagles rattled off five straight goals to create a comfortable advantage, a deficit that the Tar Heels never came close to erasing. What was so impressive about this win—and about this entire season—was the the Eagles’ pure dominance. Yes, everyone expected BC to remain a juggernaut within the lacrosse ranks—it earned the No. 1 ranking in the US Lacrosse Preseason Poll. But through these first 11 games, it looks as if the Eagles have done the near impossible: BC became an even better team since 2018, a year in which it largely dominated the lacrosse ranks, en route to an undefeated regular season and came up just one goal short in the National Championship.     

Players who seemed to have peaked last year have displayed even more growth, which has fueled BC’s success. Take Sam Apuzzo, for example. The reigning Tewaaraton Award winner has already notched a whopping 53 goals on the year, which is tied for the national lead with Duke’s Charlotte North. She also leads the nation in points with 70. As the top player in NCAA lacrosse last season, she finished with a total of 88 goals and 129 points in 24 games. Should the Eagles make a run in the postseason once again, Apuzzo is firmly on pace to surpass those mammoth totals. Currently, she is projected to finish with 115 goals and 152 points, an improbably high number that would put a punctuation mark on a dominant career.

Kenzie Kent, who redshirted last season in pursuit of a complete 2019 campaign, has simply picked up where she left off in the 2017 NCAA Tournament, when she became the first-ever player from a losing team to be named Tournament MVP. The graduate student’s 41 assists top the country, and she isn’t far behind Apuzzo in terms of points with 65. Apuzzo and Kent are not just stuffing the stats sheet against weaker opponents—six of the 11 teams that the Eagles have played were ranked. With this duo, BC has a lethal tag-team to lead a top-ranked offense.  

But it’s not just Apuzzo or Kent who can score. Dempsey Arsenault previously starred as a defender during her first two years on the Heights. But in 2018, she shifted to an offensive role and responded by breaking out for 103 points. This year, she has still been impressive, notching 43 points. Starters Cara Urbank, Taylor Walker, and Sheila Reitano have excelled as attackers, picking up 34, 26, and 23 points in 2019, respectively. Not only do the Eagles have six lethal, reliable attackers, but they have also seen meaningful contributions from underclassmen. Jordan Lappin and Jenn Medjid have combined for 23 points.

Last season, offensive production was mainly concentrated between Apuzzo, Arsenault, and seniors Kaileen Hart and Tess Chandler, as they accounted for over 68 percent of the goals scored by BC. With six core attackers, the Eagles have not only replaced the production of Hart and Chandler—they have bettered it.  

The Eagles clearly boast the scariest attack in the nation, but their defense—led by assistant coach Jennifer Kent—has been phenomenal as well. Senior goaltender Lauren Daly was excellent to begin the year, but she has been sidelined with an undisclosed injury. Sophomore Abbey Ngai was forced to step in, and she has not missed a beat. She has stymied some of the top offenses in the country, and her save percentage of 51 percent is tied for fourth-best in the conference. In her latest performance, Ngai recorded 9 saves and allowed eight goals against UNC. The Tar Heels entered that contest averaging over 16 goals per game, and Saturday was the first time they scored in the single digits.

Not only has play in goal been outstanding, but BC’s defenders have given opponents fits all year long. Senior Elizabeth Miller, who was named to the Tewaaraton Award watch list earlier this season, has anchored the defense and also is tied for second on the team in ground balls with 16.

This team is proving to be one of the most dominant in the decade, establishing itself among the likes of Maryland—which has won four national championships since 2010—as well as UNC and Northwestern, which have both earned two titles in the past 10 years. BC has already defeated both UNC and Northwestern this year, and they also beat UMD in the national semifinal in 2018. Of the Eagles’ 11 wins, nine have been decided by a margin of five goals or more. The other two games were clashes against Syracuse and Southern California. In fact, those contests were exercises that proved BC can push through adversity.

In the 14-12 victory over the Orange, BC trailed by as much as five with eight minutes remaining in the first half. From that point on, though, the Eagles flipped the switch. Sam Apuzzo—who would finish the afternoon with seven goals—found the back of the net twice in the span of two minutes to cut the deficit and Taylor Walker’s goal reduced the Orange’s edge to two.

You already know how the story ends. BC retook the lead six minutes into the second half and outscored Syracuse, 9-3, before the Orange tallied two garbage-time goals. Against USC, the Eagles quickly jumped out to a six-goal lead, but the Trojans would slowly cut into the deficit, eventually making it a two-goal game with 15 minutes left to play. After that, BC added two insurance goals to pad its cushion. Most of the Eagles’ victories this season have been blowouts—a product of their immense talent—but those two games in particular show that they are battled-tested and can pull through when the going gets tough.   

With one of the most talented senior classes in program history, as well as a new crop of young players, this is the prime year for the team to bring home a title. But, BC will stay on top of the lacrosse world for years to come. Yes, the Eagles are set to see a number of seniors depart, including Apuzzo, Arsenault, Kent, Miller, Daly, and Walker. But with Acacia Walker-Weinstein at the helm, the team is bound to be a consistent powerhouse.

Over her seven years as head coach, Walker-Weinstein has established a winning culture. After all, dating back to the last regular season, BC has won 28 regular season games in a row and has appeared in the National Championship each of the past two years. This dominance will attract the best high school players, and this has come to fruition. The Eagles have pulled in some of the highest-rated recruits in recent years—BC’s incoming class includes Ryan Smith and Sophia Taglich, who are both five-star recruits—and that will not change in the near future. Lacrosse is one of the few NCAA sports in which only a few titans consistently win titles. Besides James Madison’s victory in the National Championship last season, either Maryland, UNC, or Northwestern won the previous 13 titles. With the way that BC is progressing, it’s beginning to appear that the team is cementing a dynasty in the top of the lacrosse world.   

Simply put, BC looks unstoppable. The Eagles have somehow gotten even better, and it has showed through their absolute domination of opponents in 2019, hanging 200 goals and outscoring teams by 93. Through 11 games in 2018, BC was also undefeated and scored 187 goals. But of those 11 opponents, only four were ranked, and three games were decided by four goals or less. The Eagles are firing on all cylinders and have all of the necessary pieces to succeed—at this point, considering their numbers and dominant results, it would be a disappointment if they couldn’t bring home that coveted national title to Chestnut Hill.

Featured Image by Jonathan Ye / Heights Editor

March 25, 2019