The Bryant University Bulldogs head to the host site of Boston College this Friday afternoon to take on the Loyola University of Maryland Greyhounds. This game signals the start of the NCAA tournament, where the winner will take on the #5 Boston College Eagles Sunday.
Both teams enter the NCAA tournament with big conference wins. The Bulldogs defeated the Wagner College Seahawks in the NEC Championship this past Sunday with a final score of 15-10. Bryant trailed 6-4 at halftime but went on an offensive spree in the second half, outscoring Wagner 11-5. Senior midfielder Shannon Burns netted seven goals while sophomore attack Emily Columbus had a hat trick. One of the sport’s best midfielders Shea Gegan of Wagner fouled out early on in the second which helped Bryant’s offense come alive.
Loyola Maryland beat Navy in the Patriot League Championship two Saturdays ago. The tournament’s MVP Kara Burke had four goals as the Greyhounds went on to win 14-9. Junior goalie Molly Wolf had nine saves while senior defender Gretchen Mayer had a game-high three caused turnovers.
Both teams have scoring similarities with Loyola edging out Bryant in goals per game at 12.47 compared to 12.44. However Bryant’s junior attack Lauren Descalzo is a lethal weapon for the Bulldog offense averaging 3.59 goals per game, good for 4th in the NCAA. She has 61 goals this season with many looks coming from the help of fellow junior Nicole Britton, who leads the team with 40 assists. Loyola is not far behind with their own offensive weapons. Their best attack man Kara Burke has scored 54 times this season. Senior Annie Thomas is also a silent but deadly player similar to that of Nicole Britton, registering 46 assists and 31 goals. Free positions will also be something to look out for on Friday. The Greyhounds are 45% from the arch this season while the Bulldogs are only 39.8%. However, Bryant has seen more opportunities at taking free positions in the last four games, going 9-27 compared to Loyola’s 4-7. Bryant will need to capitalize in order to get an offensive advantage.
On the other side of the game, Loyola has the advantage in goaltending with a solid 50.2 save percentage good for 3rd in the nation. Bryant, on the other hand, only has a 42.3 save rate, an area which the Bulldogs have struggled in all season long. This may be due to freshman goalies Sam Santeramo’s and Daja Andrews’ lack of experience of play at the Division I level. On the upswing, Sam Santeramo has improved over the course of the last four games, boasting 25 saves good for 44.5%. In terms of defensive standouts, Loyola’s junior Maddy Lesher has caused an impressive 23 turnovers while picking up 39 ground balls. But that may be no match for Bryant sophomore Molly Martin’s 39 caused turnovers and 43 ground balls. She also has been known for her speed up midfield where opponents have trouble keeping up. Even with Molly Martin’s speed, Bryant has struggled all season long on clearing the ball. Errors in bringing the ball up midfield has resulted in a 77% success rate, while Loyola has an impressive 86%.
Friday’s matchup will be a great start to the first round of the NCAA tournament. Both teams are hungry to advance to the second round. Loyola will look to exploit Bryant’s goal-tending and clearing weaknesses, while the Bulldogs will look put their offense to work. This will be a game of clock management. Whoever holds the ball longer will ultimately win the game.
My prediction: Bryant 12, Loyola 11.
For this to happen, Bryant needs to score early on and keep the ball out of Loyola’s hands. By doing so, the Bulldog defense will be rested for any fast breaks the Greyhounds may have.
Opening draw is set for 4:00pm. You can follow @bshaps_ on Twitter for LIVE for coverage.