This has been a banner spring for Abby Bosco. After spending four years with the Penn women’s lacrosse program, she will play in her first Final Four as a member of Maryland’s team.
Nearly as rewarding is the amount of support Bosco has received from her former Quakers teammates — with many of whom she still communicates.
“There have been a ton of congratulatory texts, even from the coaches and trainers,” she said. “Everyone is definitely in my corner. A lot of people have said, ‘It’s so cool you’re getting to play in the Final Four. This is awesome.’”
Bosco is one of several players who used the NCAA transfer portal to their advantage and contributed immediately to their new teams. For the No. 2 seed Terps (19-1), Bosco, a graduate student defender, ranks second among all Division I players in total ground balls (63). She is joined by former Johns Hopkins graduate student attacker Aurora Cordingley, who ranks fourth in the nation in points per game (5.8), and former North Carolina sophomore midfielder Shannon Smith, who is the only player on the team with at least 10 goals, 10 assists, 10 ground balls, 10 caused turnovers and 10 draw controls.
In fact, three of the four semifinalists have benefitted from the transfer portal. Top-seeded North Carolina (20-0) — which will open play Friday against No. 4 seed Northwestern (16-4) at 12:30 p.m. — has been buoyed by former Notre Dame graduate student attacker Andie Aldave (50 goals and 11 assists), former Penn State junior midfielder Olivia Dirks (19 goals and 30 draw controls) and former Richmond graduate student attacker Sam Geiersbach (29 goals and 25 assists).
And No. 3 seed and reigning national champion Boston College (18-3) — which will face Maryland at about 3 p.m. — paired former Temple graduate student defender Courtney Taylor (84 draw controls, 31 ground balls and 25 caused turnovers) with former Duke graduate student attacker and 2021 Tewaaraton Award winner Charlotte North (82 goals, 23 assists and 132 draw controls).
As much as the Terps, Tar Heels and Eagles have capitalized from the transfer portal, their respective coaches expressed some caution about going to the well too often.
“The transfer portal, to me, is very dangerous and can be a slippery slope,” said Boston College coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein, an Annapolis High and Maryland graduate.
Added North Carolina coach Jenny Levy, a Roland Park graduate: “Overall with [name, image and likeness deals] and the transfer portal, I think some of this needs to be re-evaluated, quite honestly.”
Their concerns stem from the notion that greener pastures in the form of more playing time and greater glory await players diving into the transfer portal. Walker-Weinstein said it can be good for players who “genuinely have not found a home,” but it also provides an “out” for athletes.
“I think in some ways, one of the toughest and most important lessons you can learn is that sometimes there isn’t an out,” she said. “Sometimes you just have to find a way and tough it out and find happiness because there’s happiness everywhere.”
Levy is quick to acknowledge that the Tar Heels have taken advantage of the transfer portal. But she noted that the portal has opened the door for dissatisfied or disgruntled players to leave their current teams for shinier and brighter toys.
“Even my own players here who have gone from freshman year to senior year, when they reflect on their first two years, [there is] the growth that they’ve gone through in just learning how to play the game, learning how to be a good teammate, learning how to work and train,” she said. “I think it’s a bad message to send to players, ‘Well, I’m not getting what I want, so I can transfer.’”
Taylor, the Eagles defender, had planned to call it a career after her senior year at Temple last spring. But training with the U.S. national team in June refreshed her, and after entering the portal in June, she chose Boston College over Northwestern. What she’s found in Chestnut Hill is what she was looking for: “That every single person on the team gives 110% every day.”
“I didn’t really find that at Temple,” added Taylor, who graduated with a bachelor’s in supply chain management and is working towards her MBA. “I loved my four years, but I just thought that was enough. I didn’t want to go back and not have a chance to win again.”
Joining a new school means making new friends, adjusting to an unfamiliar campus and academic schedule, and absorbing a different playbook. Aldave, the North Carolina attacker who hails from Baltimore and graduated from McDonogh, admitted that moving from Notre Dame to North Carolina took some time, noting “you’re kind of like a freshman.”
When the fit is right, however, transfers can enhance a team’s outlook. The trio of Bosco, Cordingley and Smith turned a Maryland program that went 10-7 and lost in the second round of the NCAA Tournament last season into one that will make its 12th Final Four appearance in the last 13 years.
“It just gives me chills,” Bosco said of helping the Terps capture what would be an NCAA-leading 15th title. “You dream of winning a national championship, and to do something so special with such a special group of people, it would mean everything.”
Bosco’s coach, Cathy Reese, said she thinks the popularity surrounding the transfer portal has increased as athletes ponder how to use the extra year of eligibility provided by the NCAA. But she admits she’s worried about “the trickle-down effect,” citing the thousands of basketball and football players who enter the transfer portal seeking more playing time.
“We’ll see how that transitions,” she said. “This is all still pretty new right now, and I think adding that COVID year is what made it possible.”
Will more programs follow the path traveled by North Carolina, Maryland and Boston College and mine the transfer portal? Much like professional organizations, the NCAA can be a copycat league.
“I’ve spoken to a few coaches who didn’t use the transfer portal this year, and they’ve all said, ‘We’re going to hit the transfer portal hard after this year,’” said ESPN analyst and former Virginia midfielder Dana Boyle. “So I think that they’re recognizing the importance of it. I think it does create this wild, Wild West sort of dynamic, but I do think that is part of sports in general. I don’t know if you can get away from that.”
ESPN analyst and former Georgetown attacker Sheehan Stanwick Burch said the financial temptation of the transfer portal is different in lacrosse compared with football and basketball, which can offer full scholarships. But she said teams that have holes to fill or are seeking to strengthen a certain position can capitalize on the transfer portal.
“I don’t see it going away in the near future,” she said.
NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Final Four
Friday at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field
No. 1 North Carolina vs. No. 4 Northwestern, 12:30 p.m., ESPNews
No. 2 Maryland vs. No. 3 Boston College, approx. 3 p.m., ESPNU