May 24, 2009

HilBo, Nielsen Cement Legacies in 'Cats Lore

by Clare Lochary | Lacrosse Magazine Online Staff | Game Blog

Northwestern's Hannah Nielsen dodges on North Carolina's Amber Falcone in a matchup of Tewaaraton Trophy finalists Sunday in the NCAA championship game.

© John Strohsacker/

TOWSON, Md. -- In the final installment of their storied careers, the Batman and Robin of women's lacrosse were superheroines. Seniors Hilary Bowen and Hannah Nielsen posted cartoonishly high numbers as they helped Northwestern a 21-7 win over North Carolina and to a fifth consecutive national championship.

For the third year in a row, Bowen scored five goals in the title game, and pushed her career tournament goal total to 40, the best in NCAA history. Nielsen's six assists were the most ever in a championship game, and her sixteen assists in 2009 are the most in tournament history, as are her 34 career tournament assists. Both were named to the All-Tournament team.

"Me and Hil, ever since we sort of took over the position behind the net since our sophomore year, we've just been developing such an on-field connection," said Nielsen. "We kind of know what each other are going to do before we even do it. I know where Hil's going to be and she just makes it so easy for me."

During the championship game, Nielsen and Bowen connected twice. The first time was on Nielsen's feed from behind to Bowen's brilliant cut to the crease that caught goalie Logan Ripley (two saves) out of position. It was the team's 15th goal of the day, but Bowen and Nielsen celebrated as if it was their first, savoring the joy of doing a wonderful job with a wonderful friend.

"She catches everything I throw her way, and it helps that we're great friends off the field as well," said Nielsen.

Bowen's season was curtailed by a mid-season anterior cruciate ligament tear that looked to be season-ending. But with the help of Nielsen and her other teammates, she rallied to return in time for the NCAA tournament.

"If I just didn't have my teammates and my coaches and my family pushing me to get back out there and give it a go, I never would have had this opportunity, and I'm just so thankful that I did," said Bowen.

Without her favorite target, the Australian assassin felt lost on the field. But during her rehab, Bowen took junior attacker Katrina Dowd under her wing and vicariously kept the Northwestern offense clicking in her absence.

"Hilary, the sec she went down instead of thinking about her injury, she mentored Katrina, she told her what to do.," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.

"She basically gave her the experiences that she had already had and it proved to work out pretty well."

Dowd scored four goals and two assists in the final, and won Most Outstanding Player, an honor Bowen had won the two previous years. Dowd will return next year and carry on the legacy built by Bowen, Nielsen and the rest of the class of 2009. The seniors will complete their careers with an 85-3 overall record and a 16-0 record in the NCAA tournament. Their 23-0 campaign in 2009 is the final piece of the puzzle; their class had won three previous championships but never in a perfect season.

The next installment for Batman and Robin is one that comic book purists would never entertain: the dynamic duo will turn on each other. Nielsen will play for Australia and Bowen will play for the U.S. in this summer's World Cup in Prague, beginning June 17.

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