Big East Women's Lacrosse: What Do We Have So Far?

Marquette goalie Sarah Priem ranks second in the Big East in ground balls per game. - MarquetteImages.com

Marquette gets their first ever Big East season started on Friday, so let's take a swing around the league and see what everyone's been up to all season long.

This will double as our official preview for Friday's home Big East opener against Cincinnati, so let's provide you with some important details about that contest.

It'll be at the east field down at Valley Fields, with face off set for 6pm Central. You can find live stats for the game here. It's the second annual game for women's lacrosse where they will be raising money for the Pancreatic Cancer Action Network. There will be raffle tickets for purchase with three items given away at Friday's game and seven more given away at the men's and women's lacrosse doubleheader at Hart Park in Wauwatosa on April 19th. In addition, the first 300 students in attendance will get a free women's lacrosse T-shirt and free pizza from Pizza Hut as well. You can get live in game updates by following @MarquetteWLax on Twitter.

Ok, that takes care of that business, onwards to Big East women's lacrosse!

For each team, we've got their record and their goals, assists, and goalie statistical leaders. We'll also check in with their best win and worst loss of the season so far, and we'll use the women's lacrosse RPI as assembled by LaxPower.com. The number you see next to each team's record is their individual RPI number. As you look at the RPI numbers, remember that there are only 103 schools that play women's lacrosse, so #51 is the dividing line between the top and bottom half of the country. For those of you that read our men's lacrosse conference preview, you might be wondering why there are so many women's lacrosse teams relative to men's lacrosse. I figure there's two reasons: 1) less equipment required for women's lacrosse (no helmets, no pads) and 2) a lot of schools need to balance out the scholarship requirements of their football teams out with women's sports.

Cincinnati (6-3, #58)

Goals Leader: Courtney Curtis, 18 goals
Assists Leader: Ashley Helmrath, 13 assists
Top Goalie: Meg Gulmi, 10.51 GAA, .345 SV%
Best Win: At #53 Winthrop, 10-9 (3OT)
Worst Loss: At #60 Niagara, 12-6

You have to be careful when making any serious statements about the Bearcats. Yes, they're on a five game winning streak after opening up the season 1-3. But two of the losses were bludgeonings at the hands of two top 10 RPI teams - Notre Dame and Florida - while the last four wins have come at the expense of essentially bottom quarter teams, with #74 Iona landing just outside the last 25% of the country. Even their early season win was over a lousy team, when they pounded #100 Stetson. They do have that three overtime win at Winthrop, but I don't know how to deal with that information when I just watched Marquette run through Winthrop this past Sunday afternoon.

The key thing to remember about Cincinnati is turnovers. They're not going to beat themselves, as they lead the Big East with just 11.6 turnovers per game. But they're also not going to come after you on defense all that well, as they are last in the Big East in caused turnovers, averaging just 6.9 forced errors every time out.

Connecticut (5-4, #36)

Goals Leader: Katherine Finkelston, 22 goals
Assists Leader: Lauren Kahn, 13 assists
Top Goalie: Shannon Nee, 10.09 GAA, .443 SV%
Best Win: vs #24 James Madison, 14-13 (OT)
Worst Loss: at #40 New Hampshire, 11-7

I'll say this for the Huskies: with arguably the league's best field player and best goalie on the squad, they had no fear of challenging themselves in the early part of the season. Their lowest RPI ranked opponents were Oregon and Fresno State, both of which came in an event hosted by the Ducks out in Eugene. Other than that, they've only dipped into the lower half of the RPI once and have played four games against the RPI top 25. The bad news for UConn is that they're 1-3 in those games, with that aforementioned overtime win over James Madison coming as the only victory.

Finkelston might have the goals lead, but it's Kahn that has the points lead for Connecticut, edging out Finkelston 31-29. Kahn's offensive dominance (2nd most points per game in the league) keeps her on par with her preseason Offensive Player of the Year award, but I had her pegged as the preseason Defensive Player of the Year, and she's holding up that end of the deal, too. Kahn ranks fifth in the country with 2.44 caused turnovers per game. To put it another way, by herself, Kahn is more than one-third as effective at forcing turnovers as Cincinnati's entire team.

Georgetown (3-5, #12)

Brine Media Poll Ranking: #15
Goals Leader: Kelyn Freedman & Caroline Tarzian, 14 goals
Assists Leader: Corinne Etchison & Kelyn Freedman, 4 assists
Top Goalie: Barb Black, 12.39 GAA, .250 SV%
Best Win: at #16 Princeton, 17-16 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #22 Stanford, 11-10 (2OT)

Good news for Georgetown: they've played a ridiculously tough schedule, with everyone coming in the top 30 in the RPI. The bad news is that they're not winning games and are rapidly heading out of the Brine Top 20 at this point. After last night's loss to #14 Loyola (MD), the Hoyas have lost four straight games, and Saturday's go-round with Louisville isn't going to be a picnic, nor will their next game against Penn. It's completely possible that Georgetown will be on a six game losing streak when they host Marquette on April 5th.

Goalie Barb Black was on the preseason all-conference team, but she's been replaced in the starting lineup by freshman Maddie Fisher for each of the last two games. It's unclear whether this is an injury issue, but Black was only stopping 25% of the shots on cage on the season before she was lifted for Fisher after 19 minutes against Brine #1 North Carolina.

Louisville (6-3, #30)

Goals Leader: Nikki Boltja, 37 goals
Assists Leader: Jamie Redding, 14 assists
Top Goalie: Ashley Herbst, 9.65 GAA, .296 SV%
Best Win: vs #29 Denver, 12-7
Worst Loss: at #23 Duke, 14-11

There's a reason why I went with Nikki Boltja as my choice as preseason Offensive Player of the Year, and what she's done through nine games is exactly the reason why. The entire Rutgers team has only 19 more goals than Boltja. She's third in the country in total goals, second in the country in goals per games (4.11), 7th in the country in total points (47), and eighth in points per game (5.22). She is a blur of red and white with a swinging sword of offensive destruction.

The defense behind her is pretty great, too. Louisville leads the Big East in caused turnovers per game as the only team to average more than 10 per contest. Herbst is third in the league in goals against average amongst players with at least 300 minutes played, and she's the only one of the top four to have played over 500 minutes already this season. If the best defense is a good offense, Kaylin Morissette makes sure the Cardinals are on offense, leading the Big East and ranking third in the country in draw controls with 7.89 per game.

Marquette (4-5, #55)

Goals Leader: Hayley Baas, 15 goals
Assists Leader: Amanda Bochniak, 12 assists
Top Goalie: Sarah Priem, 12.64 GAA, .333 SV%
Best Win: vs #53 Winthrop, 13-6
Worst Loss: vs #39 Duquesne, 14-10

It's been a weird schedule for the Golden Eagles. They've played two teams in the Brine Top 20 and four in the RPI top 25, all of which have been losses. Meanwhile, they've played three games against teams ranked 80 or lower in the RPI, all of which were wins. Maybe it's not that weird of a schedule. For a second year program, it does make a lot of sense to schedule top flight teams like Northwestern and Notre Dame to show your team where you can be, as well as scheduling Michigan and Coastal Carolina to give them chances to win games to boost their confidence and show them what they're learning to do will actually work given time.

In the meantime, there are some serious building blocks in place for Marquette. Bochniak is only a freshman, but she ranks fifth in the Big East in assists per game and seventh in the league in points per game. Sophomore goalie Sarah Priem is second in the Big East in ground balls per game, and is one of two goalies in the top five in that category. Priem led Marquette in ground balls last year, so I'm not sure if that means head coach Meredith Black wants her defense blocking shots, leaving Priem to clean up the mess, or if Black wants her goalie to be creating dysfunction in front of her.

Rutgers (6-4, #19)

Goals Leader: Lauren Sbrilli, 13 goals
Assists Leader: Jenny Vlahos, 4 assists
Top Goalie: Amanda Currell, 8.99 GAA, .516 SV%
Best Win: vs #24 James Madison, 8-7
Worst Loss: vs #35 Stony Brook, 14-4

While Georgetown has assembled a tough schedule that has gone badly for them, Rutgers has played a slightly less tough schedule that has gone very well for them. They've only played one team in the bottom half of the country, and gone 5-4 with a pile of games against top flight competition. What has to be slightly troubling for the Scarlet Knights is that they weren't even close to being in two of their losses. They lost 14-4 to current Brine #16 Stony Brook and 19-7 to current Brine #12 Penn State. The troubling part of that is Rutgers generally speaking doesn't score or allow 10 goals in a game. They've only scored 10 or more goals twice in a season, both in their last two outings, and they've only given up 10 or more goals four times, two of which were those aforementioned destructions.

So, given that, it's pretty much a given that redshirt freshman Amanda Currell has the best goals-against average in the Big East. Rutgers' style of play is going to lead to few goals scored on either end of the field. What is impressive, though, is that Currell has the best save percentage in the Big East, stopping more than 51% of the shots on net. Even when the defense fails her, she's still turning balls away at a rate that has her ranked fifth in the country amongst goalies with at least 300 minutes played.

Temple (3-6, #64)

Goals Leader: Jaymie Taybor, 18 goals
Assists Leader: Morgan Glassford, 4 assists
Top Goalie: Jaqi Kakalecik, 10.16 GAA, .404 SV%
Best Win: vs #41 Hofstra, 9-8 (OT)
Worst Loss: vs #76 La Salle, 7-4

Hey, it's Temple! We though we avoided you guys completely by ditching the football schools, but you had to tag along for women's lacrosse! Yaaaaaay.

First things first: I have to give a big thank you to Temple head coach Bonnie Rosen. Through the first six games of the year, Temple was splitting goalie time straight down the middle between Rachel Hall playing the first 30 minutes and Jaqi Kakalecik getting the nod for every second half. Now, Kakalecik has started each of the last three games and has gone the distance in all three of them. While I had to figure out why Kakalecik had fewer starts but more minutes played than Hall, it was great to see that Rosen appears to have picked a netminder and stuck with her.

That said, Temple is 1-2 with Kakalecik in net. Upside: They got their best win of the season as far as the RPI is concerned as that lone win. Other than that, the only good thing I can say about the Owls is that Taybor is third in the Big East in goals per game and ninth in points per game. If you read through the Big East statistics page, Temple has an awful lot of "just there."

Villanova (4-4, #57)

Goals Leader: Kelsey Denihan & Meghan Breen, 14 goals
Assists Leader: Jessica Mucci, 12 assists
Top Goalie: Jaclyn Fraum, 8.88 GAA, .419 SV%
Best Win: vs #54 Drexel, 9-5
Worst Loss: vs #35 Navy, 9-8

Well, you can't fault the Wildcats for losses to Navy or Notre Dame. The Wildcats were picked to finish sixth in the Big East, and were a clear cut above both Cincinnati and Marquette. At this point, the jury is still out on both of those issues, as all three teams have been taking care of business in the bottom half of the RPI and unsurprisingly struggling against the top half.

The Big East coaches didn't put any Villanova players on the preseason all-conference team, but I had Mucci on mine. She's answered the bell on that count this season, ranking second in the league in assists per game. With Chelsey Henderson averaging an assist per contest (8th best in the league), I suppose it shouldn't be surprising to find out that the Villanova is the best passing team in the league, averaging a league high five assists per game. Fraum has stepped into the Wildcat net exceptionally well after not playing at all last season. She's quietly compiled the second best goals-against average amongst goalies with at least 300 minutes played.

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