Blogs and Commentary

May 22, 2009

Blog: NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Semifinals

LMO's Clare Lochary blogs live from Towson, Md., where Penn meets four-time defending champion Northwestern and North Carolina meets Maryland in the 2009 NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinals.

Northwestern 13, Penn 12 (2OT)
* Frank Clinches NU's Dramatic Semifinal Win
* Dowd's Coming of Age Continues in Towson
* Penn Suffers Familiar Swan Song

North Carolina 8, Maryland 7
* Tar Heels Headed to First Title Game

* Zimmerman Pronounces UNC's Final Arrival
* Fans Denied Terps-Cats for Championship

Final: North Carolina 8, Maryland 7

Logan Ripley had a big save on a Karri Ellen Johnson shot in the final minutes and then Amber Falcone had a huge CT with about 90 seconds to play. Carolina played terrific team defense throughout the match, but Falcone was always riding the crease with her stick in the face of anyone who dared challenge her. She might as well have been waiving around a shotgun and telling the Terps to get off her damn lawn.

The Tar Heels never relinquished possession after that, excecuting a solid stall despite Maryland's best efforts. Defender Katie Gallagher got bounced on a second yellow card with 67 seconds to play after a brutal check to Corey Donohoe's head.

So Carolina will play its first championship game against the four-time defending champions. David, meet Goliath.

2:32 North Carolina 8 Maryland 7

Laura Zimmerman, where have you been all my life? You just caught an outside pass from Megan Bosica, and turned and switched left to right and gave your team an 8-7 lead. You’re a freshman with a season-high three goals in a national semifinal, and you did it in front of a record crowd of 7549 people (the combined attendance for both games; no way to tell what percentage of people saw the first game, the second game or both).

Maryland caught up to Carolina thanks to goals from Johnson and Mollison. Mollison’s was a neato no-angle bouncer near the crease. Merrifield had a nice possession and tried to railroad her way in but got stripped by the Carolina defense. On the fast break, there’s no one like Merrifield, but she has a tendency to force it. That often works, because she’s so big, but against a solid D like Carolina, which knows how to channel attackers and play the body, you’ve got to show some finesse. Even Caitlyn McFadden has been held to a single assist. Oh, right as I typed that, she got a bouncer on the crease and then sort of rolled her shoulders and dropped her head back in that universal, “God, FINALLY” gesture. And then the goal was called back for a crease violation. McFadden can’t get any breaks tonight.

21:33 North Carolina 7, Maryland 5

Jenn Russell showed off some nifty dodging, and switched from left to right to get through traffic on the crease and tie it 6-6 at 25:20. Corey Donohoe gave the Heels their first lead of the game on a free position at 22:06. The Maryland defenders crashed the ball and she sort of slid to the ground but got the shot off anyway and it went in high. A yellow card was issued on the play to Maryland defender Katie Gallagher.

On the following play, Carolina controlled the draw and Megan Bosica beat Merrifield to put the Tar Heels up 7-5 at 21:33.

Spotted in the crowd: Maryland men's goalie Brian Phipps, sporting a mondo knee brace from his season-ending hissyfit in the men's quarterfinals. (Phipps hopped up and down to protest a call and tore his ACL on the landing.) I assume he's here to remind Terps keeper Brittany Dipper (7 saves) to keep her head in the game and her feet on the ground.

Semifinal No. 2 at the Half: North Carolina 4, Maryland 4

Laura Merrifield, the 6'1" English rose, is a thorn in the side of the Carolina defense. She beat Amber Falcone and another Tar Heel defender to punch a goal past keeper Logan Ripley (3 saves) and tie it up at 4-4 at 1:36 remaining in the first half. It's been a back and forth game, with four ties and only one lead change. Freshmen are shakin' up the scoring though. Karri Ellen Johnson has two goals for the Terps, and rookie Laura Zimmerman leads Carolina with two goals. Zimm had only nine goals on the season entering the game.

In contrast to the thrilling end of the first semifinal, this has been a measured game. Such a pace favors the Tar Heels, who have faithfully ground out their wins, compared with the run-and-gun style Maryland likes. But believe it or not, Maryland has had three games this year where they scored just four goals in the first period (UMass, Johns Hopkins and Duke in the ACC tourney). They went on to win all those games.

Final: Northwestern 13, Penn 12

Meredith Frank ended it all, with a turn-and-shoot on the crease. Nielsen gets credit for controlling the drawand letting NU get into a settled offense. Frank edged up on the crease and did a turn-and-shoot on a Penn defender at 1:31 left in the first sudden death period, putting the ball in the high left corner, same place Dowd's insane goal from the first OT went. Northwestern's going to the championship for the fifth straight time, and Penn must go home to nurse what I imagine is an ever-expanding grudge.

End OT: Northwestern 12, Penn 12

Penn struck first. Dowd wheeled in a took a shot that Szelest saved and then chased down the GB to set up a clear that eventually culminated in a free position, and then a scrum on the crease. Lathrop made two gorgeous saves, but Brennan got the putback on one to go ahead with 10.8 seconds.

Nielsen controlled the following possession and fed Dowd. Dowd shot, Szelest made a HUGE stop but couldn't quite contain it. Dowd dove towards the ball and from her knees, somehow whipped it into the upper corner with 1 second remaining. It seemed like the clock had expired, but after review it was called good.

There was no break between the two OTs, so we went straight to the second one. NU controlled the draw and held it until the final 30 seconds. Meredith Frank got the shot, and Szelest made another monster save. (Sarah who? Waxman inna what now?) There were about 14 seconds left then, but Penn couldn't set up a good shot quickly enough. NU fouled, now with the 6/10 of a second remaining Giordano had possession outside the arc. We're headed to sudden death.

It's OK, Northwestern and Penn. I didn't want to live until I was 30 anyway. Dying of a heart attack in the press box is pretty fitting, anyhow.

End Regulation: Northwestern 11, Penn 11

Wildcats controlled the subsequent draw and Nielsen had a look on the crease but Penn senior defender Katie Mazer caused a TO. Dowd picked up the ground ball and let loose a shot that went in, but it was well after the buzzer sounded. We're going to overtime.

1:30 Go, Go Giordano -- ALL TIED UP

Northwestern got up 11-7, and then Guilia  Giordano WENT INSANE and decided she was going to carry this team to the final on her back. Penn rattled off four goals, two of them GG's and then she assisted  on Sam Bird's, making it 11-11 with 90 second to play. Giordano controlled the ball and tried to drive in to tie the scoring goal but Meredith Frank forced her out and then behind. Bird made a beautiful cut to the crease and Giordano fed her high and she whipped it in. Giordano's pumping her fists and jumping with joy. This girl came to play, and I have a feeling she's not going home in the next 90 seconds. Big props to Katie Brennan, who caused a turnover at midfield to set up GG's run.

14:07 Hey, this record's broken

Dowd just scored her third goal of the night to make it 9-7, tying Bowen's NCAA tournament record for goals, and giving Northwestern the most total goals scored by an NCAA DI team in a season ever.

Aly Frank is taking a draw in place of Spencer; Brennan's still at the X for Penn. Frank won the draw and then scored on a free position. Now it's 10-7, with 11:57 to play. Still plenty of time for anything to happen, but the momentum is shifting to the Wildcats.

16:23 Northwestern 8, Penn 6

Penn is hanging tough, but they have yet to tie Northwestern. DeLuca scored a gorgeous goal off Brennan’s assist at 23:38, tucking it just under the cross bar in the high right corner, to make it 6-5. NU GK Morgan Lathrop must have killer quad muscles – she crouches pretty low in the goal, so the Quakers are looking high. But then Meredith Frank (3g) responded just 16 seconds later on a free position, making it 7-5 at 23:22.

The Northwestern defense is keeping Penn really spread, and the Quakers are getting either tired or frustrated, because they’re making little mistakes. Sam Bird just had a gorgeous look on the crease versus Lathrop (3 saves) but sent it wide. Can't do stuff like that against the 'Cats.

Ooh, but then Giulia Giordano got her second goal of the day on a free position (high shot again) at 17:45 to close the gap to 7-6. Penn controlled the following draw but Bethany Warren (1g) shot it straight into Lathrop’s chest. Lathrop cleared it beautifully and it turned into a goal for Dowd. It’s 8-6 at 16:23.

Bowen got pulled after Giordano’s goal – she had the turnover that resulted in the goal. That’s two TOs for HilBo today.

Halftime: Northwestern 5, Penn 4

Penn junior goalie Emily Szelest (4 saves) has a penchant for coming out of the cage on ground balls. She’s fast, so it usually works to her advantage, but not today. Northwestern has burned her twice already. She's been a little more conservative since then.

On the offensive end, the Quakers are taking verrrrry good care of the ball, especially after Penn took a time out at 25:18 when Northwestern was up 3-0. They’re going into a settled offense at every opportunity, and are mostly passing off their free positions from the outer hash marks when they don’t like the shot.

Northwestern has a slight edge on draw controls, winning 6 of 10, the stat that Brower thought would be the key to the kingdom. But where the Wildcats are really smoking the Quakers are on ground balls, where they have a hefty 9-1 advantage. (That 1 GB for Penn doesn’t sound totally right to me, but them’s the official stats.)

Overall, scoring has been very evenly distributed. Spencer (2g, 1a) leads the ‘Cats; DeLuca (1g, 1a) leads the Quakers. Defenders are actually the ones who are blowing me away – Penn has some mean sliding action going on after shaking off nerves. The ‘Cats also had an early 3-0 lead in the regular season game, which Penn kept competitive and that seems to be what’s happening here. The refs are, for the most part, letting both teams play some pretty, tough physical defense. It’s not unnecessarily rough (only one yellow card, on NU’s Lacey Vigmostad) although Northwestern leads Penn on fouls, 20-7.

There were also four goals called back in the first half. DeLuca would have had two more goals if they hadn't come after the ref's whistle. Northwestern similarly had two goals called back, one by Dowd (1g) on a charge.

Fun insider story: In addition to the WD1 lacrosse championships, the Baltimore area is also hosting Balticon, a sci-fi and fantasy convention this weekend. Northwestern is staying in the same hotel as many of the convention-goers. Reports indicate that flirting between the lacrosse Amazons and the dudes dressed as hobbits and warlocks has been minimal in the extreme.

Going Toe to Toe in Towson  -- Northwestern strikes first

posted Friday at 6:15 p.m.

Greetings from Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University! I'm sure you'll be shocked to learn that it's hot and muggy here in north Baltimore. But fans and players alike look pumped to be here for the first of two NCAA Division I women’s lacrosse semifinals. Top-seeded Northwestern and No. 4 Penn are here for an epic showdown that’s a rematch of last year’s title game.

Starting lineups…Hilary Bowen is in the starting line-up for Northwestern. St. Hilary of the Torn ACL definitely got the biggest cheer from the crowd. Defender Barb Seaman (daughter of Towson men’s coach Tony Seaman), an occasional starter for Penn, got the nod today. Home field advantage?

In a conference call earlier this week, Quakers head coach Karin Brower said draw controls were the key to winning this game – it’s what tripped them up when they lost to the Wildcats, 11-9, on April 25. The game is starting with Northwestern’s Danielle Spencer and Penn freshman Erin Brennan at the X; first draw goes to the Wildcats. Ruh-roh. The possession resulted in a free position for Bowen, which she shot wide. Penn picked it up out of bounds, but then Spencer stole it right back at GLE and caught keeper Emily Szelest out of position and scored at 28:55. Northwestern 1, Penn 0.

But ooh, Penn got the next draw and is working it around. Northwestern goalie Morgan Lathrop is definitely catching the the worst of the setting sun in this half, but she got the first stop on Ali DeLuca's first shot.

Some stats to watch for: The Wildcats are eight goals (oops, make that seven goals) shy of breaking Syracuse’s 2008 record 380 total goals in a season, and junior Katrina Dowd is four goals away from breaking Bowen’s NCAA postseason goal record of 17.

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