Vanderbilt's lacrosse team was rewarded after a 12-5 season with the 10th seed in the 16-team NCAA Tournament next week. Unfortunately, the 'Dores will be face-to-face with familiar foes on their way to a potential championship. They'll first have to face off with #5 Duke in Durham before a potential showdown with arch-rival Northwestern in the second round. Both teams are opponents the Commodores have played against in 2010.
Vandy squared off with Duke in the first game of the season, and came out on the wrong side of a 19-10 beating. The loss sparked a 1-3 start to the season, though the three losses all came against ranked opponents. The 'Dores were never really close in the teams' first meeting, as Duke jumped out to 5-1 lead after ten minutes and controlled most of the game from that point. However, it's safe to say that both teams have grown since then, especially Vanderbilt, who rolled off a streak of ten straight wins after their rocky start.
A potential showdown with Northwestern would be a much tougher game. The powerhouse Wildcats have been the bane of Vanderbilt's existence in women's lacrosse, absolutely owning the Commodores during their run of five straight NCAA titles. The 'Dores haven't been competitive in most of their losses to the Northwestern dynasty, though a 14-23 loss in the American Lacrosse Conference Tournament finals showed signs of life - and a better showing than their 27-9 pasting just two weeks earlier.
Of course, should they win both games, they'll be faced with more staunch opponents in the Final Four, but that may be a moot point. Despite their regular season success, the team has fallen the past three years in the first round, unable to pull off an opening game upset. A look at their schedule this year may suggest a similar fate, as the team rolled to 12 wins, but only one against another tournament-bound team - a 10-9 squeaker over #15 Notre Dame. They went 1-3 against tournament teams in 2010, though three of those losses came against teams seeded third or higher.
Can 2010 be the year that Vanderbilt breaks through? It looks like it will all depend on how well the team has adjusted to their losses. When they went 1-3 to start the season they righted the ship with superior play and a series of wins against mediocre-to-good competition. Now, they're coming off a 1-2 run and will be facing the best that the NCAA has to offer. Will they fix their holes and string together another series of wins on their way to the title? Or will the intense competition of the NCAA tournament be too much? We'll have a better idea after Sunday's game.