Seven Irish players remain in with a chance of taking NCAA glory with the top US university competition down to its final 19 contenders following the completion of the various conferences.
For the three Barr sisters from Lurgan – Natalie, Serena and Bethany – they have made a groundbreaking impact at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, helping the Flames to their first ever Division One field hockey championship.They won the Northern Pacific conference last Saturday with Natalie firing the winner in a 2-1 win over against Stanford University, the tenth ranked side in the country, in the final.
To qualify for the last 16 in Chapel Hill this weekend, Liberty face the Delaware Blue Hens in Rullo Stadium with the Barrs likely to be at the forefront once again.
Having led Lurgan to two Kate Russell All-Ireland championships in three years, the family have carried the momentum through to this stage in incredible fashion.
They have combined for 33 goals and 32 assists this season, racking up a string of individual tallies. Natalie was named the NorPac East Division Offensive Player of the Week four times this season as well as the East Offensive Player of the Year and an all-conference honoree for the second consecutive year.
Serena earned two Rookie of the Week plaudits as well as a Defensive Player of the Week award. She earned the conference’s Maria Whitehead Rookie of the Year honour.
Bethany, meanwhile, claimed a NorPac East Rookie of the Week honour once and the Offensive Player of the Week award once as well. The freshman tallied two goals and an assist during the conference tournament, earning a spot on the All-Tournament team with sister Natalie.
Should Liberty get Delaware, they will face a really tough date against an always-strong North Carolina Tar Heels who feature former Pembroke and Mount Anville player Sinead Loughran in her ranks.
Now in her fourth year stateside, this will be her fourth NCAA championships hoping to arrest a run of three successive final defeats all by a 3-2 scoreline. She missed her side’s Atlantic Conference final defeat to University of Maryland with a hand injury but will hope to get back into the mix as the playoffs progress.
As a result of that 2-1 win, Maryland are top seed while Syracuse University are the second in the ratings list. They feature Emma Russell – formerly of Holy Child Killiney – who has been one of their standout players to date, named in the All-ACC second team following the conference phase of competition, notching 11 goals and 10 assists to date this term.They will host their quarter of the draw at JS Coyne field and await the winner of either Michigan State or Miami University (Ohio), both rank outsiders, in the last 16.
University of Connecticut, for whom Limerick woman Roisin Upton could meet Syracuse in the quarter-finals on Sunday if they get by Boston College on Saturday. The seventh ranked side won the Big East Conference with Upton – like most of the Irish in the US – shining.
Upton was one of six players from her school to be named in her conference’s team of the season as they won their final in over time last weekend against Old Dominion.
Former Railway Union and St Andrew’s Cliodhna Loughlin, meanwhile, is an Atlantic 10 champion as her University of Massachussets defeated the Richmond Spiders in the final.
Loughlin set up her side’s second goal a 2-1 win as part of an impressive freshman season. The Minutewomen will meet the Virginia Cavaliers in the last 16 stage in Durham, North Carolina.
The Spiders themselves featured three Irish starlets – Rebecca Barry, Amy Cooke and Kerri McDonald – who all made it onto the Atlantic 10 honours list. Cooke was named in the first team of the Atlantic 10 Conference and during their championship, McDonald and Barry were also named to the All-Championship team.