Irish 16 gearing up to conference playoffs

With conference finals kicking into gear in the coming days, the 16 Irish players abroad continue to set the tone for a number of the major universities as the NCAA championships get ever closer.

The battle for supremacy at the conference level is the last chance for each university to impress ahead of the November 6 date when the NCAA will confirm their final 16 teams and seedings for the championships finals, the pinnacle of their season.

A number of Irish players look well placed to take up some of those slots but Aisling Naughton and her University of Michigan side will hope to make a lasting impression.

The former Mount Anville student’s seven goals in 13 games, twice receiving Big Ten freshman awards, has helped her team to achieve the current rating of 15th.

They lie fourth in the Big Ten conference after a hectic season to date but one which Naughton described as a world away from Dublin’s low-key scene.

“Each game is like a showcase with over 350 people watching,” she said. “It’s a really great experience as the crowd do go crazy and cheer throughout the game. It’s much more of an event and they create a great atmosphere.

“It’s like we are treated like professionals. When I first arrived, they had a custom-made face-mask for defensive penalty corners. It shows how well we are treated.”

Such perks are scarcely affordable on the Irish scale and while some Irish coaches have expressed concerns about the standard of play on offer, Naughton says that she reckons it should not have a negative impact on her career.

“I wasn’t sure what it would be like coming over here but there are a couple of players who are training with the US international squad.

“It will always be a concern that we might be forgotten about [by the national coaches]. But what does help is that there are 10 more of us over here. No selector can ignore that amount of potentially good players.”

Recently, Naughton faced off against one of her best friends from her school days, Lisa McCarthy, whose North Western University side won out 4-1, McCarthy on the mark with one of the goals.

Her side have enjoyed an impressive autumn, winning 16 of 18 games and look secure in the NCAA considerations as the ninth ranked university.

One below them in the latest pecking order is Northeastern University where Deirdre Duke has been breaking records, her four goals against Hofstra the best freshman tally and the most goals by an individual since 2003 in one game. She has 11 goals to date including a debut effort that proved a match-winner, starting her US-career in style.

Her side will contend the latter phases of the Colonial Athletic Association conference finals in strong form.

Further up the rankings, Roisin Upton’s University of Connecticut have lost just one game this season and head up the Big East conference by a narrow margin from Syracuse.

The Orange’s Irish influence is still standing out as they are major contenders for the overall crown with 15 wins from 16 outings. All three Leinster women – Gillian Pinder, Emma Russell and Liz McInerney – have picked up individual honours in the regular season. Pinder was named Big East Offensive Player of the Week on Monday, scoring two goals and adding three assists in the past two games, playing a part in each goal in a 4-2 win over Boston College.

Pinder is the third different Syracuse player to take honour, joining Liz McInerney and Kelsey Millman while Russell has also featured on those lists.

Sinead Loughran continues to line out for top-ranked North Carolina who have already finished the Atlantic Coast Conference undefeated and claimed the top seed in the 2012 ACC Championship with a 4-3 overtime win at Maryland on Saturday afternoon. Megan Frazer has previously won the whole lot with the Maryland Terrapins but they have endured a relatively tough season, losing four of their 16 games.

Outside, the top 16, Natalie Barr has been a regular on the NorPac Eastern Division weekly awards list. Playing for the Liberty Flames, she became the first player in the Virginia school’s history to net four times in one game in an 8-1 win over the Appalachian State Mountaineers on Friday night.

At Monmouth, former Railway woman Trish O’Dywer tallied four ‘points’ recently while Macken added an assist as part of a four-game winning streak as they go well in conference play, lying equal second in the Northeast ten conference.

Hayley Sarratt’s Holy Cross College lie fifth in the Patriot League while the Richmond Spiders, inspired by Rebecca Barry as well as Amy Cooke and Kerri McDonald will endeavour to defend the Atlantic 10 title.

Performances in the various conferences are weighted on the perceived strength of each division as well as the lengthy series of matches outside of each regional battle and the accumulation of performances will lead to ultimate seeding and inclusion at the NCAA top table.

Irish players who relocated Stateside in 2012: Deirdre Duke (UCD to North Eastern University, Massachusetts); Róisín Upton (Catholic Institute to University of Connecticut); Kerri McDonald (Armagh to University of Richmond, Virginia); Amy Cooke (Pegasus to University of Richmond); Lisa McCarthy (Railway Union to North Western University, Illinois); Emma Russell (Old Alexandra to Syracuse University, New York); Aisling Naughton (Old Alexandra to University of Michigan); Orla Macken (Railway Union to Monmouth University, New Jersey); Natalie Barr (Lurgan to Liberty University, Virginia); Gillian Pinder (Hermes to Syracuse University); Hayley Sarratt (Hermes to College of Holy Cross, Boston).

Already playing in USA: Megan Frazer (Maryland University); Rebecca Barry (University of Richmond); Sinead Loughran (North Carolina University); Liz McInerney (Syracuse University); Trish O’Dwyer (Monmouth University).

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