Whatever happens Sunday, a first-time NCAA champion will be crowned.
Third-seeded James Madison and fourth-seeded Boston College never have won the NCAA women’s lacrosse championship, but when the two square off in Sunday’s title game, one will have the opportunity to make history in front of what likely will be a full house at Stony Brook’s LaValle Stadium.
Each team has a Tewaaraton Award finalist — Boston College’s Sam Apuzzo of West Babylon and James Madison’s Kristen Gaudian — and that type of talent on two teams vying for history is a positive for the game of lacrosse, according to Eagles coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein.
“It’s so good for the sport,” she said after Boston College defeated top-seeded Maryland, 15-13, on Friday night at LaValle. “The sport is growing, there’s more and more people playing and there’s a higher level of talent in multiple different schools. I think it speaks to the growth of the game.”
Boston College fell to Maryland, 16-13, in last year’s championship game, but BC (22-1) wasn’t expected to reach this year’s title game after Kenzie Kent opted to redshirt her senior year of lacrosse to play hockey.
It’s been Apuzzo leading the show as a junior, and she’s taken one of the biggest steps forward of anyone in the country. Her speed makes her a factor in the draw circle and on attack, and her craftiness on offense makes it nearly impossible for only one player to mark her.
On the other side, James Madison (21-1) relies heavily on Gaudian, a senior attack named Colonial Athletic Association player of the year. Like Apuzzo, she makes an impact on both offense and off the draw circle, and this matchup could decide the outcome.
James Madison has ridden its title of self-proclaimed underdog since the beginning of the season, when it upset North Carolina in overtime. The Dukes beat UNC again Friday, 15-12, but still aren’t ready to shed the title.
“I think that most people didn’t think that we’d come out on top in this last game,” said Haley Warden, who scored four of her five goals in the first half Friday. “I think that we still are the underdogs in every situation, and we’re going to keep playing to that.”
James Madison coach Shelley Klaes-Bawcombe, the Hofstra women’s lacrosse coach from 2002-06, has been instrumental in building the program. She hopes this championship run, however it ends, will help put JMU on the map.
“We can’t change people’s opinions without having results,” she said.
The underdog Dukes and the upstart Eagles will be the focus of the lacrosse world Sunday, and given how both semifinal games were played, there’s no reason to expect anything but a close one.
Boston College has played two consecutive tight games — the other was a 12-11 overtime win over Stony Brook in the quarterfinals — and the Eagles surely are battle-tested.
But don’t count out James Madison shocking the sport yet again. The Dukes are starting to get used to doing so.
DUELING TEWAARATON FINALISTS
Sam Apuzzo, Boston College
Hometown: West Babylon
Stats: 85 goals, 37 assists, 44 ground balls, 155 draw controls
Kristen Gaudian, James Madison
Hometown: Fairfax Station, Virginia
Stats: 77 goals, 16 assists, 19 ground balls, 76 draw controls