And then there were eight…
We’ve reached the final two weekends of the season and in just over 24 hours we will know who the four teams that will be competing for the 2012 Division III Women’s National Championship.
Concordia (Minn.) @ RIT
Out of the four matchups, this is probably the one that everyone is already penciling in a winner for. Concordia (Minn.) has been a great story this season but they are really up against it having to fly to Rochester, N.Y. to take on the top-ranked Tigers. I think the biggest key in this game is going to be depth. Concordia has a great top line with Taffe, Julius and Dold but after those three the scoring drops off significantly. On the other hand, RIT can roll all four lines and get consistent scoring from three of them night in and night out no matter who they are playing. I just don’t see RIT losing this one in perhaps their final run at a Division III title before the impending move to Division I that is rumored to be happening next season. I like RIT in this one by a score of 5-1.
Amherst @ Norwich
The story lines in this game are incredible. Not only does this game a rematch of the 2010 National Championship, it also has the two teams that have combined to win the last three national championships going head to head. Amherst won in 2009 and 2010, while Norwich won last year. The Cadets also have the pressure on to continue the trend of every team that has won the national championship winning it at least the next year as well. Amherst beat Norwich 2-0 on Jan. 24 at Orr Rink. Since then, Norwich has won 11 games in a row. As cliche as it sounds, this game comes down to special teams and goaltending. Amherst’s Sinead Murphy has some of the best numbers for a goalie in the country sporting a 0.99 goals against average and a save percentage over .950. Kelly Fisk has been solid for Norwich between the pipes and has set a new program single-season record for shutouts with seven. This game also features two of the best players in the country and two likely RBK First Team All-Americans in Norwich’s Julier Fortier and Amherst’s Geneva Lloyd. Amherst is one the teams I think Norwich was hoping to avoid in the Quarterfinal round and I think the Lord Jeffs take this one. Amherst 2-1.
Wis.-River Falls @ Gustavus Adolphus
For the last couple of years River Falls and Gustavus Adolphus have started to emerge from the rest of the pack in the West Region and really assert themselves as the two teams to beat. They’ll meet once again this year in the Quarterfinal round. Last year, Gustavus got the best of the Falcons in the NCAA Quarterfinals. The Gusties had an uncharacteristic loss to St. Olaf late in the season but since they’ve pretty much rolled and I think they’ve got too much fire power in this one to be stopped. Plus, as much as Danielle Justice doesn’t get recognition, she consistently puts up outstanding numbers and is going to go down as having one of the most underrated careers in D-III history awards wise. I like the Gusties 3-2 in this one.
Plattsburgh @ Middlebury
This game should also be a dandy especially considering each team ended its regular season against each other with a 4-4 tie a few weeks ago. Plattsburgh got back into the NCAA tournament this year after a one-year hiatus, but just barely as the Cardinals had to sweat it out a little bit on selection Sunday wondering if they were going to be the odd man out. Instead, Elmira was and Plattsburgh got in this year and they were just barely left out last year for the final at-large bid, losing it to Norwich. Both team’s goalies have shown the ability to shut down top offenses, but also give up quite a few goals as well. Middlebury I think gets a little bit of an edge playing the game on their big ice sheet at Kenyon over the smaller surface at the Stafford. Plattsburgh’s size is their best strength and the play of Teal Gove since the calendar turned to 2012 can’t be overlooked. She’s completely taken over on offense for them. Both teams are deep with mutiple players than can hurt you. I think this game has overtime written all over it and I’ll take Plattsburgh 3-2 in a mild upset.