Is USC a Contender or Pretender?

PHOTO BY DIRK DEWACHTER

Michaela Michael (above) leads USC with 41 points on 30 goals and 11 assists.


No. 9 USC vaulted into the NCAA tournament last year on the strength of an undefeated regular season before they were edged by Syracuse in overtime in the quarterfinals.

USC lost almost half of its starters, but returned with aspirations to go farther this year.

The Women of Troy won their first big showdown of the season back on Feb. 18 by squeaking by No. 13 Northwestern in overtime, but missed their other chances for another signature non-conference win.

USC fought back in the second half only to lose to No. 3 Florida. They also lost back-to-back games to No. 6 Cornell and No. 8 Stony Brook by a total of three goals.

“We were undefeated last year and that was great, but it didn’t teach us lessons we needed to learn when we played Syracuse in the quarterfinals,” said USC coach Lindsey Munday. “We’re taking all these things as positive things and making sure we get better from it and learning the lessons and making sure we’re taking those into the future.”

USC faced back-to-back trips to the East Coast to toughen them for travel during NCAAs, but now remains out west for Mountain Pacific Sports Federation play. The MPSF also includes No. 4 Colorado, Oregon, California and Stanford, with the Cardinal receiving votes in the Top 20 rankings. USC, the defending conference champions, opens with Fresno State on Friday.

“Our conference is getting stronger and stronger,” Munday said. “Right now to have three teams ranked in the Top 20 is great. Hopefully these battles have prepared us for conference, but it’s going to be a tough road. There are some tough teams in our conference and we have to come ready to battle for 60 minutes.”

Colorado is doing what USC did last year by starting its fourth season unbeaten, and looks to be the toughest MPSF challenger to USC. Winning the league would give USC momentum heading into the NCAA tournament.

“We know what potential we have,” Munday said. “We’d rather lose in the regular season than in the postseason. As long as you take these lessons and learn from them and continue to get better, I’m super inspired by the group we have in front of us.”







Going Streaking

No. 14 Notre Dame is hoping that another streak is starting.

The Irish lost their first game of the season before reeling off eight straight wins. When that streak ended, it started another one – a three-game losing streak that spanned eight days. Notre Dame snapped it with a big 16-7 win at No. 12 Syracuse on Sunday.

“For Syracuse, we had a talk about game management,” said Notre Dame coach Chris Halfpenny. “We weren’t doing a good job of game management. Even in our wins, we left a lot of empty possessions out there against Ohio State and Louisville in spurts. We got away from doing some really important detail-oriented things.”

Now the Irish are hoping to get on another run. They host No. 2 North Carolina on Sunday. UNC has won seven straight games after crushing No. 17 Virginia Tech 14-6 on Tuesday. North Carolina is 3-0 in ACC action. Notre Dame is 3-1 and could jump into first place if it can do the things it did to stop Syracuse.

“We got back to doing things that we do well – strong communication, organized approach, being a little more deliberate in each set and focusing on our next-play mentality,” Halfpenny said. “We certainly got away from that in our spring break run.”

In jumping out to a 7-4 halftime lead against the Orange, Notre Dame reversed a trend that had developed during its losing streak. The Irish trailed at halftime of all three losses.

“I don’t think we were showing up ready to go,” Halfpenny said. “There’s not much to it. It was pretty uninspiring to watch. It became contagious.”

Against Syracuse, Notre Dame also cut down on its errors that had led to easy goals for opponents and turnovers on offense. Halfpenny is looking to her team leaders to keep the Irish winning.

“We have an outstanding senior class,” she said. “When they’re communicating and focused and ready, the team follows suit really well and we’re able to showcase each other a bit more.”

GAMES TO WATCH

Here are some key games to keep an eye on this weekend (all times Eastern):

No. 4 Colorado at No. 8 Stony Brook, Friday, 7 p.m.

This Top-10 showdown between similarly matched teams opens the weekend. Colorado has the No. 1 defense, Stony Brook is No. 7. The Buffaloes also have the No. 2 offense; Stony Brook is No. 9.

Ohio State at No. 4 Penn State, Saturday, 1 p.m.

Penn State looks to remain unbeaten in Big Ten play against upset-minded Ohio State. Penn State has owned the all-time series, 19-6, but last year lost to Ohio State.

No. 11 Towson at No. 20 James Madison, Saturday, 1 p.m.

JMU has lost four of its last five, but could get back on track with a win over red-hot Towson in the CAA opener for both. Towson has allowed barely seven goals per game during its four-game winning streak.

No. 16 Virginia at No. 18 Boston College, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Virginia ripped Duke for its fourth straight win, and Boston College hung tough with North Carolina before falling. Boston College could move into a tie with Virginia in the ACC standings with a win and would own the tiebreaker.

No. 13 Northwestern at No. 10 Penn, Sunday, 1 p.m.

Northwestern continues a loaded schedule with another good road game after it hosts a dangerous Johns Hopkins team Thursday. Penn was held to seven goals in back-to-back games.

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