March 22, 2009

No Stopping Northwestern, Routs 'Cuse Again

by Chris Gentilviso | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

Northwestern attacker Hilary Bowen (2g, 3a) navigates between Syracuse's Sarah Sedgwick (left) and Bridget Hamm.
© Midwest Lacrosse Photography

EVANSTON, Ill. -- For the past two years, only one team was to blame for Syracuse's exit from postseason play: defending four-time national champion Northwestern.

With that on their minds, senior attacker Katie Rowan and the No. 8 Orange viewed Saturday's game as a chance for redemption.

Thanks to Wildcats senior attacker Hannah Nielsen, Rowan and her teammates will have to wait for another opportunity.  

Led by seven goals from Nielsen, the top-ranked Cats handled the Orange with ease, coasting to a 19-8 victory at Lakeside Field. The 2008 Tewaaraton Trophy winner added two assists, moving within four of the NCAA record of 178 held by Maryland's Jen Adams (1998-2001). 

While Syracuse looked to avenge its pair of losses, NU felt poised to make a statement against an opponent deemed one of the toughest on its regular season schedule.

"We've knocked them out of the tournament the last two years, so I think we knew that they were going to be really up for this game," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "We just had to figure out a way to get ourselves up too. We had a lot of time to prepare, took advantage of that, came in with a game plan, and executed it."

That game plan consisted of a balanced first-half attack on offense, which allowed the Wildcats (9-0, 1-0 ALC) to mount a 12-4 lead into the break. The Cats outshot the Orange 20-13, and received goals from seven different scorers. Four of those 12 goals came from Nielsen.

It was another frustrating afternoon against Northwestern for Rowan, who was stifled by a band of Cats defenders. A year after being limited to two shots on net in a 16-8 NCAA tournament semifinal loss, Syracuse's lead attacker had zero shots on net Saturday. 

Rowan, who entered the game tied for second in the nation with 3.83 goals per game, said she saw nothing different from NU on defense. But she did see plenty of self-inflicted mistakes from her own team. 

"We had some opportunities early especially," Rowan said. "We just weren't putting our shots away. We probably could've taken an extra second to really make a good shot. Just a lot of careless errors and unforced turnovers."

Syracuse compensated for its flat play on offense with a physical defense. That aggressive play caught the attention of the officials, who penalized the Orange with eight yellow cards over the course of the 60-minute affair. 

Three of those cards were issued within the first four minutes of the second half, allowing Northwestern to put the game out of reach on a short-handed unit.

Off the third yellow card issued, Cats senior attacker Hilary Bowen found a wide-open Casey Donahoe for a quick-stick goal. Twenty-four seconds later, Bowen forced a turnover in Syracuse's own zone and scored, giving NU a 14-4 advantage.

The Wildcats held the running clock for the next 15 minutes, and Syracuse got no closer than nine goals the rest of the game, thanks to three huge saves by NU senior goalie Morgan Lathrop over the final seven minutes.

"She stepped up for us, which is what she does in big games," Nielsen said. "She loves to play in the big games."

Syracuse coach Gary Gait said the loss to Amonte Hiller's team had little to do with expectations and much to do with execution. He knows her lacrosse mind dating back to his days coaching her at Maryland, as an assistant on the 1995 and 1996 national title teams. 

If Syracuse and Gait should have to face Northwestern and Amonte Hiller's attack again this season, it will again boil down to execution.

"The only way you can improve the result is execute, play a great game and make as few mistakes as possible," Gait said. "We'll learn from this again and move forward. There are going to be a lot of other teams in our situation that face these guys."    

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