NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament preview: UNC looks to finish perfect season


The NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament bracket has officially dropped.

The ACC holds four of the top five spots with No. 1 UNC, No. 3 Syracuse, No. 4 Boston College and No. 5 Notre Dame. Meanwhile, the Big Ten has four qualifiers in No. 2 Northwestern, Johns Hopkins, Maryland and Rutgers.

James Madison, the 2018 champions, is set to face off against Johns Hopkins in the first round for a shot to play against No. 1 UNC. The full bracket can be found here

With the first round starting May 14, Just Women’s Sports is here with some of the storylines to watch in this year’s tournament. 

Three teams went unbeaten in the regular season; two of them could face off in the second round

UNC (18-0), Northwestern (13-0) and Stanford (11-0) all remain perfect heading into NCAA tournament play.

Northwestern boasts the nation’s highest scoring offense (20.62 GPG) behind Tewaaraton finalists Izzy Scane and Lauren Gilbert. Scane, who was recently named Big Ten Attacker of the Year and the Big Ten Tournament MVP, has been unreal offensively for the Wildcats, scoring 81 goals in 13 games. Gilbert has held some firepower of her own, scoring 56 goals in as many games. Meanwhile, UNC holds the nation’s highest scoring defense (5.94 GPG) led by senior and Tewaaraton finalist Emma Trenchard. Stanford is also high-powered offensively, ranking fifth in the country with an average of 16.73 goals per game. 

Both UNC and Northwestern received first-round byes and home-field advantage after receiving the No. 1 and No. 2 rankings respectively. Stanford, meanwhile, is set to face off against Denver in the first round of the tournament in the Evanston “pod.” The winner of that matchup will then meet Northwestern in the second round, meaning that if Stanford beats the Pioneers it will be a showdown between two of the three remaining unbeaten teams. The last time Stanford and Northwestern met, during the COVID shortened season in 2020, the Wildcats beat the Cardinal 25-18. 

However, the Cardinals might not get past the Pioneers so easily as Denver enters the tournament having lost only one game this season (early on against Colorado) and are the Big East Tournament Champions. Regardless, the winning team will advance to face Northwestern, who is seeking their eighth national championship and first since 2012.

Maryland enters the NCAA tournament unranked

Defending national champion Maryland is no stranger to the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament. This year will mark their 31st consecutive appearance, making it the longest streak in the nation. Head coach Cathy Reese has led the Terrapins to five national titles since she took over in 2007 with the last coming in 2019. No matter what, the Terrapins are always in the national title conversation having won 15 titles, the most of any women’s lacrosse program. 

This season has not been an easy one, as they enter the tournament with a 7-5 conference record. But the Terrapins have been showing power in spurts, led by Tewaaraton finalist and Big Ten Defender of the Year Lizzie Colson. Following a loss in their season opener to Johns Hopkins, they went on a five-game win streak that was snuffed by Northwestern. They went 2-2 in their final regular season matches before making it all the way to the Big Ten Championship final, where they were defeated once again by the second-ranked Wildcats. While Maryland enters this year’s NCAA Tournament in unfamiliar territory, they could very well make some noise in the early rounds. 

UNC Lacrosse, not to be outdone by field hockey, is looking for their third title

North Carolina’s women’s teams have been having an unreal year. While UNC Field Hockey was busy taking care of business and winning their third-straight title, their soccer team has a shot at advancing to the College Cup Final. 

Meanwhile, their lacrosse team has been dominant all season while riding a 21-game win streak. The Tar Heels are led by a nation-high four Tewaaraton Award finalists in Katie Hoeg, Taylor Moreno, Emma Trenchard and Jamie Ortega. Ortega has led the Tar Heels’ offense, having scored 73 goals in 17 games, winning her ACC Attacker of the Year, while Hoeg has made an impact with her assists, having 61 in 18 games for the Heels. 

The Tar Heels enter the tournament having won their fifth straight ACC tournament, defeating No. 3 Syracuse 9-4. They’ve dominated all season, outscoring their opponents 290-90, and are now seeking their third national title (and first since 2016). Goalkeeper and ACC Defender of the Year Taylor Moreno has only allowed double-digit goals against twice, versus No. 5 Notre Dame and No. 7 Duke. Having earned a first-round bye, they’ll take on the winner of James Madison vs. Johns Hopkins in the second round in Chapel Hill.

Other teams to watch out for:

  • Boston College (13-3) has been the runner-up in the past three tournaments. They enter this year’s tournament at No. 4, just missing out on the first-round bye. The Eagles are the 7th highest scoring offense in the country led by senior attacker and Tewaaraton finalist Charlotte North. Their three losses have come at the hands of North Carolina in a lopsided 21-9 defeat and twice against Syracuse, most recently in the ACC Semifinal. They’ve also had notable wins against No. 7 Duke and No. 5 Notre Dame. 
  • No. 3 Syracuse (14-3) is led by three Tewaaraton Award finalists in Megan Carney, Sarah Cooper and Meaghan Tyrrell. The Orange earned an at-large bid to the tournament following a loss to UNC in the ACC Championship game. Other notable losses include a regular-season loss to UNC and a close one against No. 4 Boston College. 

Full list of qualifiers:

Automatic Qualifiers (Conference Winners)

  • No. 6 Florida (16-2) – American Athletic Conference
  • No. 8 Stony Brook (14-2) – America East
  • Massachusetts (15-2) – Atlantic 10
  • No. 1 North Carolina (18-0) – ACC
  • Jacksonville (11-1) – ASUN
  • Denver (15-1) – Big East
  • High Point (10-7) – Big South
  • No. 2 Northwestern (13-0) – Big Ten
  • James Madison (11-4) – Colonial
  • Fairfield (13-1) – MAAC
  • Robert Morris* (14-2) – MAC
  • Mount St. Mary’s (14-2) – Northeast
  • Stanford (11-0) – Pac-12
  • Loyola Maryland (11-2) – Patriot
  • Mercer (7-7) – SoCon

Teams Selected At-Large

  • No. 4 Boston College (13-3)
  • Drexel (13-2)*
  • No. 7 Duke (9-7)
  • Hofstra (6-6)
  • Johns Hopkins (8-6)
  • Maryland (9-6)
  • No. 5 Notre Dame (9-6)
  • Rutgers (6-8)
  • No. 3 Syracuse (14-3)
  • Temple (12-5)
  • Towson (9-8)
  • UConn (12-6)
  • Vanderbilt (12-6)
  • Virginia (8-8)

*Marks first tournament appearance

Notable: The NCAA Division II Women’s Lacrosse Tournament has been in the headlines lately as the LeMoyne women, who were ranked in the top three all year, were left out of the tournament. Even worse? The bracket was leaked early.