May 2, 2009

A.L. See Ya: Top 'Cats Add Another Trophy

from press releases

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. -- Freshman Shannon Smith (West Babylon, N.Y./West Babylon) tied a career-best with four goals and senior goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop (Briarcliff, N.Y./Hackley School) became the program's all-time save leader as Northwestern claimed its sixth-straight American Lacrosse Conference title with a 13-3 victory over 17th-ranked Penn State.

The Wildcats have now won all three ALC tournaments, posting a 6-0 record during that span. NU extends its winning streak to 25 games, and has now won 29-straight conference games. The `Cats improve to 10-4 all-time against the Nittany Lions, holding a nine-game winning streak.

Playing on it's home field, Penn State (9-8) used that advantage early as Laura Lesnick converted a free position shot less than a minute into the game to give the Nittany Lions a 1-0 lead.

But similarly to Friday's semifinal against Vanderbilt, the lead was short-lived as Smith notched her first of the game just 30 seconds later to knot the game at one. But playing in her first postseason tournament, Smith was nowhere near done.

The Wildcats controlled the tempo of the opening 30 minutes, slowing down the pace and being patient with their shots. That patience paid off as Smith found the back of the net three more times, all off assists from senior Hannah Nielsen (Adelaide, Australia/Brighton Secondary), to give NU the 4-1 halftime lead. The last of Smith's first half goals was the prettiest, catching Nielsen's pass on the right side while balancing on one foot and rocketing a shot past PSU goalkeeper Stephanie Ellis with 2:36 to play.

NU came out firing early in the second half, as a free position goal from junior Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) and another from senior Meghan Plunkett (Towson, Md./Maryvale Prep) from Nielsen extended the Wildcat advantage to 6-1 with 28:28 remaining.

Penn State cut the gap to four at 6-2 off a goal from Mariel Bryan that slipped past Lathrop, but the Wildcats responded with goals from Spencer and junior Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) less than a minute apart to push the lead to six at 8-2.

The Nittany Lions struck again as a shot from Ashley Boccio deflected off Lathrop's stick to pull PSU within five at 8-3 with 14:10 remaining. The `Cats responded with a free position goal by sophomore Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School) and the second of the game for both Plunkett and Dowd, giving NU an 11-3 lead with 8:13 to play.

Senior Meredith Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) put the exclamation point on the Wildcat victory, converting a free position shot with 7:11 remaining. Coupled with her assist earlier in the game, she upped her career point total to 198, surpassing Laura Glassanos for 10th-place on the all-time Wildcat point list. Dowd's fourth with 13 seconds to go sealed the championship for Northwestern.

NU had been one of the top draw control teams in the nation all season and it proved deadly in the second half. After winning only two of six draws in the opening 30 minutes, the `Cats won 11 of 12 in the second, sparked by Nielsen's seven, tying a career-best.

Lathrop returned to her dominant post-season form, allowing only three goals while making five saves, including holding the Nittany Lions to just one of six on free position attempts. She ups her season total to 107 and her career total to 529, surpassing Ashley Gersuk's 526 career saves.

Nielsen, who finished with four assists on the day, was named the tournament's most valuable player for the second-straight year. She was joined on the all-tournament team by Lathrop, Smith, Dowd and freshman Alexandra Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood).

Northwestern now gets set to embark on its quest for a fifth-straight national championship as the 2009 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship gets underway next weekend. The Wildcats will find out their first round opponent Sunday evening, as CBS College Sports will air the selection show live at 9 p.m. Should NU be selected to host a first-round game, it will be held Sunday, May 10, at 1 p.m. at Lakeside Field.

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