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Towson's upset of Penn State could loom large for NCAA women's lacrosse tournament

After Saturday’s upset win over No. 4 Penn State, Towson women’s lacrosse coach Sonia LaMonica wants to look no further ahead than Saturday’s game against Georgetown.

The Tigers were a little inconsistent last season, and although they had a strong combination of balanced scoring, strong defense and good goal keeping in Saturday’s win, LaMonica said watching the tape revealed several spots that need improvement. That, of course, would make sense after any season opener no matter the outcome.

But the Tigers rocked Division I on the first weekend of the season with their 14-13 win over the Nittany Lions, a final four team the past two seasons. Together with James Madison’s 15-14 double-overtime win over No. 3 North Carolina, the two Colonial Athletic Association teams showed that they might just be getting started.

Halley Quillinan Griggs, women’s editor for Inside Lacrosse, thinks so.

“I hate to look so far ahead because I’m excited that the season just started, but if JMU and Towson don’t win the CAA, on these wins alone I think they get into the NCAA tournament,” Griggs said. “When you look at the at-large discussion and where some of these bubble teams were a season ago, teams got in that didn’t have the ‘quality’ win. These are two top-5 quality wins that, quite frankly, pave the way for the rest of the season.”

Griggs said she doesn’t believe North Carolina or Penn State have dropped off this season.

“I think JMU and Towson really just flexed their muscles over the weekend, showing how up they are,” she said.

Towson and James Madison are perennial contenders in the CAA and have made multiple trips to the NCAA tournament. Last season, James Madison won the conference earning the automatic bid. Towson lost to Elon in the semifinals, but both picked up at-large bids. The Tigers fell in the first round to High Point and the Dukes lost to Penn State in the second round.

The Tigers started the season ranked No. 20 in the Inside Lacrosse media poll, but moved up to No. 11 this week. The Dukes started at 17 and rose to No. 8. The two won’t meet until the regular-season finale.

Towson also earned the No. 9 ranking in the Lacrosse Magazine poll, the first time they’ve cracked the top 10 in any national poll since March 2010 when they rose as high as No. 7 in the Intercollegiate Women’s Lacrosse Coaches Association poll after beating No. 8 Stanford. That was the highest-ranked opponent the Tigers had ever beaten until Saturday.

Last season, the Tigers lost to Penn State, 13-11, in their second game after another close outcome — a 10-9 loss to Stony Brook, now ranked No. 2 and a strong contender for the national championship.

The Tigers now face six straight unranked teams before traveling to meet Stony Brook on March 17 and No. 3 Florida on March 21.

“We’ve got to keep the team grounded. It’s as simple as that really,” LaMonica said. “Our captains have got to push that message and that locker room talk to make sure these players are staying humble. We can’t get too big for our boots. We have harder games in front of us and a lot to be figured out. Like every year though, I don’t think it really matters what happens out of conference. JMU and Towson is always a good battle. The players were certainly talking about JMU stealing our thunder a little bit, but I think it’s great. We want our other conference teams to be doing really well. We’ve had a breakthrough and now we have to keep that momentum going.”

In upsetting Penn State, the Tigers used a different script than they had much of last season. They got off to a quick start as junior Natalie Sulmonte contributed five of her six points to a first half in which the Tigers ran their lead as high as 11-5. The Tigers also needed big defensive efforts to hold on as the Nittany Lions scored the final four goals of the game. Sami Chenoweth (Manchester Valley) caused a turnover with 24 seconds left to preserve the win. Goalie Kylie Keating made eight saves, including one after a failed clear as she was back-pedalling toward the goal.

“Last year, we would take a while to get going in the first half a lot of times and the second half would be our better half. We had a great first half. Our shooting percentage was really strong. We were executing really well and we were able to score off 11 of 15 shots in the first half. We made plenty of mistakes, but all around it was great sharing of the ball,” said LaMonica, adding that the Tigers were also able to better handle Penn State’s draw control ace Madison Carter (South River) than they had a year ago as Penn State had a 16-13 advantage Saturday compared with 18-8 a year ago.

The Tigers have three more home games, including Georgetown on Saturday at 3 p.m. before they take to the road to play Loyola Maryland on March 7.

katherine.dunn@baltsun.com

twitter.com/kdunnsun

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