Only one of the four women’s DII colleges heading into the Midwest semifinals this weekend will go home empty-handed, as far as nationals are concerned. On Saturday, UW Lacrosse takes on Pittsburgh, while Grand Valley faces Winona.
Pittsburgh fell just short of the semifinals last year, but after solid wins against Bowling Green and IUP, Pitt is one win away from seeing nationals. But the first obstacle is the reigning Midwest champ, UW La Crosse.
“We do not know much about UW Lacrosse, except that they have put up a lot of points this season,” Pitt coach Anthony Simasek said. “I am sure the team will be a bit nervous as this is the farthest Pitt has made it, but we are going to enjoy the opportunity and play our game.”
Pitt has scored a lot of points, too, and therefore has spent the last two weeks focusing on defense and support of the ballcarrier. The lineup also welcomes back its starting halfbacks, who were absent during the first two round of Midwests.
After a modest 17-0 win over Northern Illinois, UW Lacrosse advanced to the semis with a 73-0 victory over Iowa State. The team has found success in sticking to a traditional approach.
“Our coach, Dick Brewer, keeps us grounded,” Lacrosse president Hannah Brown said. “He has taught us to play simple, straight-forward rugby, and it has been very successful for our team in the past.”
UWL also has its regular lineup ready for action. “Everyone on our team is talented and brings something to the table,” Brown said when pressed for standouts. “As the season has progressed, we’ve played around with our options to see what will give us our best result.”
Both teams have shown that they can put points on the board, so it might all come down to defense. Given Lacrosse’s history, they get the nod in this matchup.
In the other semifinal, Grand Valley and Winona play toward a final’s berth. In their first year back in DII after much success in DI, the Lakers are the favorite heading into this match, but they were greatly challenged in their 10-7 quarterfinal win over Slippery Rock two weekends ago.
“That game was a good challenge for our team, which we haven't really had a lot of this season,” Grand Valley coach Bob Richthammer said. “Slippery Rock was a very athletic and balanced team that plays a similar style to ours, but we ended up being our own worst enemy. We left a lot of points on the field and spent a good part of the game playing inside their 40 meter line. I knew we were due ‘that’ kind of game sooner or later. We'd hoped ‘that’ game would have happened against Bowling Green to help us prepare for the competition of playoffs.”
Although it was a stressful win, the game was a quick education for young players who until then were unfamiliar with the increasing difficulty of playoff games.
“The girls have been very focused at practice and recognize that just a few mistakes can cost us a game,” Richthammer added.
Coach has spent the last week and a half refining the team’s vertical game in hopes of extending the field. Some of Grand Valley’s injured veterans are back on the pitch and will add some guidance to the flow of play.
Roger Riley, who has been on a sabbatical, watched Winona defeat UW Eau Claire 22-17 and MNSU Mankato 33-0.
“Given the age of the team, we are much farther ahead than I had hoped we would be,” Riley said. “We had an excellent incoming class of players and that helped a lot.”
But everyone – players and current coaches Robert Thoresen and Josh Krzewinski – felt their playoff wins have fallen short of the team’s potential. It’s something that Thoresen and Krzewinski are trying to rectify this weekend. They aren’t teaching the players anything new, just reiterating their patterns and skills.
Should be a good game, but we expect Grand Valley and UW Lacrosse to advance to the final, and Pittsburgh and Winona to play for third.