Skip to main content
Middlebury looks like a runaway train once again in the Division III women's NCAA tournament.

Middlebury's Dominance, Colby's Rise and More Takeaways from D-III QFs

May 20, 2024
Colin McCarthy
John Strohsacker

The Final Four in Division III women’s lacrosse is set. It’ll be Middlebury against Franklin Marshall and William Smith taking on Salisbury for the right to compete in the national championship game. The semifinal matchups take place Friday before the final on Sunday.

But how did we get here?

After the opening two rounds drew mostly predictable outcomes, the fireworks came out in the regionals. Franklin & Marshall battled Tufts all the way into overtime in the Elite 8 before Lauren Pittman nailed the winner to advance the Diplomats into the semis. Franklin & Marshall scored three unanswered goals in the fourth to force the extra frame.

William Smith made its way to Championship Weekend by bouncing Gettysburg decisively, 18-10, in the Sweet 16 and then sending Colby home in the quarterfinals with similar conviction.

Middlebury took out Colorado College and Pomona Pitzer back-to-back, outscoring those opponents 36-10. And Salisbury pulled away from Washington and Lee in the second half of Sunday’s quarterfinal showdown to get its final four bid.

Here are four takeaways from the regional matchups.

Can anyone stop Middlebury?

It’s hard to reconcile just how dominant Middlebury’s been over the past two years. Reigning, back-to-back national champions. Haven’t lost a game since May 2022. It’s become difficult to imagine a world in which Middlebury loses.

Middlebury’s three tournament games have all been against teams once ranked or currently ranked in the USA Lacrosse Top 20. Yet the Panthers won all those games by at least 11 goals, including their latest dominant win, 16-1, over Pomona Pitzer in the quarterfinals.

Middlebury feels like a runaway train right now, and any team that wants to slow the Panthers down has a tall task ahead of it. 

New year, familiar faces

While it was a different road to Championship Weekend this season, the results are nearly identical to last season’s Final Four. Three of the final four teams this season battled in the semifinals last year: Middlebury, Franklin & Marshall and William Smith. Salisbury — which had been upset by York in last year’s Sweet 16 — is the only fresh face in the mix, but it hoisted a national championship of its own just three years ago.

At this point in the season for any sport, experience is invaluable. These teams know the feeling of being in the semifinals. Franklin & Marshall had the same semifinal matchup last season and lost big, 22-13, to Middlebury. William Smith couldn’t wait to get back to the Final Four, with nearly an identical group to the one that lost to Gettysburg in last year’s semifinal. And Middlebury is rich with experience, having taken home the hardware two years in a row.

Whether that experience helps any of the three returners on Friday is yet to be seen, but it certainly doesn’t hurt to have that under their belts.

Pomona Pitzer proved itself in the postseason

Pomona Pitzer’s season might have ended in a blowout loss to Middlebury, but that’s not what should define its season. The Sagehens were 17-1 entering the NCAA tournament and hovered in and around the top 15 in USA Lacrosse’s weekly ranking for the better part of the regular season. But given its weaker resume than some of the other tournament teams, there were still question marks surrounding Pomona Pitzer in the postseason.

Those questions were answered. The Sagehens made it to the NCAA quarterfinals and beat Ithaca decisively along the way. Pomona Pitzer proved that the record next to its name was no fluke, and Middlebury would be a tough draw for any team at this point in the year. There’s nothing to be disappointed about in Claremont, Cali., this week.

Colby’s quiet ascension

Something’s been brewing with Colby women’s lacrosse, and though its tournament run came up short of what it wanted, there’s something to be said about the consistency of the program in recent years.

2024 marks the third straight season Colby reached the Elite Eight. It hasn’t turned any of those into Final Four appearances, losing twice in a row to MIddlebury in 2022 and 2023 before being sent home by William Smith this season. But Colby seems to improve every season. This year, it toppled a red-hot Wesleyan program in a tight game, 7-5, to earn an Elite 8 berth.

If the White Mules can keep themselves knocking on the door, eventually they’re bound to bust through it. In a conference loaded with talent like the NESCAC, Colby seems to fight its way into big matchups every year.