MEN'S Division I semifinals
Comment: The unseeded Big Red have won six of nine meetings with the Blue Devils, but Duke has won both contests in the NCAA tournament. The Blue Devils are making their seventh consecutive appearance in the national semifinals — an impressive accomplishment considering their 2-4 start. But subpar openings and strong finishes have become the M.O. of Duke, which is blessed with an offense that ranks third in Division I (13.8 goals per game) and second in assists (8.0). Junior attackman Jordan Wolf (49 goals and 25 assists) is the team's most potent playmaker. Then again, if it is offense you seek, look no further than Cornell, which leads all four semifinalists in scoring with 32 goals in two games. It helps that the offense is headlined by fifth-year senior attackman and Tewaaraton Award favorite Rob Pannell (42, 53). The key for both teams will involve the goalkeepers. Can senior A.J. Fiore (8.49 goals-against average and .529 save percentage) propel the Big Red to their first NCAA title game since 2009, or will sophomore Kyle Turri (9.28, .487) lift the Blue Devils to their second championship appearance in the past four years?
No. 1 seed Syracuse (15-3) vs. No. 4 seed Denver (14-4)
Comment: The Orange has won all three meetings in this series, but this will be the first time these programs have met in a tournament. Syracuse, appearing in its first Final Four since 2009, is not as offensively gifted as it has been in the past, but the defense has surrendered just 13 goals in the tournament — the lowest total among the semifinalists. Senior defenseman Brian Megill (48 ground balls, 22 caused turnovers) will likely get the assignment of shadowing Pioneers senior attackman Eric Law (40 goals, 35 assists). The question is whether junior Chris Daddio (45.9 percent on 113 of 246) can win enough faceoffs to offset Denver senior Chase Carraro (57.8 percent on 155 of 268). The Pioneers are making their second trip to the national semifinals in the past three years, but they have never advanced to a title game. With 56 goals, sophomore attackman Wesley Berg is the first player in school history to eclipse the 50-goal plateau. Can Denver continue to rely on a goalie rotation of sophomore Ryan LaPlante (10.14 goals-against average, .557 save percentage) and junior Jamie Faus (9.07, .567)?
Division III final
No. 3 Rochester Institute of Technology (19-2) vs. No. 4 Stevenson (21-2)
Comment: These programs have met just twice, and the Mustangs won both contests, including a 12-11 overtime decision on Feb. 27. Stevenson — which has not lost since April 9, winning 10 consecutive games — boasts the fifth-most prolific offense in Division III, and that unit is aided by the country's top ground ball vacuum (47.7 per game) and third-best faceoff group (69.3 percent). The defense is rangy, aggressive and physical, but the play of freshman goalkeeper Dimitri Pecunes (7.21 goals-against average, .577 save percentage) will be critical for the Mustangs. RIT is riding a 13-game winning streak and has not dropped a contest since March 27. Junior attackman Jack Krzyston (51 goals, 27 assists) and sophomore attackman Eddie Kiesa (41, 30) lead the offense, but the Tigers' true strength may lie in their midfield, which boasts four of the team's top six scorers. Perhaps the biggest factor for both teams is nerves. Neither program has gotten to this stage of the NCAA tournament in the past, and the unfamiliarity of this stage — and the pressure associated with it — could be nearly as much a hurdle as the opposing team.
WOMEN (At Villanova, Pa.)
No. 1 seed Maryland (21-0) vs. No. 4 Syracuse (18-3)
Comment: The Terps are in the NCAA semifinals for the 21st time, more than any other Division I program. Boasting the top scoring margin in the final four (7.1 goals per game), the Terps are led by a balanced attack that can strike in just about any manner. If anyone knows how to take apart Maryland’s offense, it’s probably Orange coach Gary Gait, who facilitated their creative style as a Maryland assistant coach in the mid-’90s when Terps coach Cathy Reese was a player. The Terps defeated the Orange, 19-11, on Feb. 17, but both teams have evolved since the then. The Terps have two Tewaaraton Award fnalists in seniors Alex Aust (67 goals, 52 assists) and Katie Schwarzmann (54, 24), who won last year. The Orange has one — junior Alyssa Murray (67, 40) — while freshman Kayla Treanor (67, 22) has picked up some of the slack after senior Michelle Tumolo was sidelined late in the season with a knee injury. Syracuse has already avenged one loss this season with its 13-9 semifinal victory over Florida, one of last year’s final four teams. The Orange has the second-longest winning streak, behind Maryland, at 13.
Friday, 5 p.m.
Comment: The Tar Heels defeated the two-time defending national champions, 11-8, in February, but they are well-aware of the Wildcats’ ability to rebound. After losing to Florida, 22-4 — Northwestern’s worst defeat since coach Kelly Amonte Hiller took over in 2002 — the Wildcats came back two weeks later and beat the Gators, 8-3. The Wildcats, who have won seven of the past eight national titles, might be the scariest team to face in the postseason because of their adaptability. The Tar Heels have had more success than most, dealing the Wildcats three of the 11 losses they’ve had since the start of their first NCAA championship season (2005). The Wildcats, however, lead the series 10-3. Northwestern has also avenged five of its last nine regular-season losses in the postseason, including one to coach Jenny Levy’s Tar Heels in the 2010 national semifinals. Since a season-opening loss to Florida, North Carolina has fallen only to No. 1 Maryland. The Wildcats are tough to beat on the draw, with Alyssa Leonard winning 122 this fall, and they have a balanced offense led by Erin Fitzgerald (59 goals, six assists).The Tar Heels, who are looking for their first national title, are led by Tewaaraton finalist Kara Cannizzaro (53, 19) and Abbey Friend (44, 15).Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun