May 24, 2009

NCAA Records Fall in Wildcats' Title Romp

by Jeff Seidel | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

TOWSON, Md. --
Statistics can be misleading at times, but the numbers truly told the story of how top-seeded Northwestern completely dominated every aspect of Sunday night’s national championship matchup with fifth-seeded North Carolina.

Katrina Dowd, Brooke Matthews and Hilary Bowen each posted hat tricks while Hannah Nielsen got five assists, and a total of seven players scored goals. In fact, eight players got points while the Wildcats scored on 15 of their first 17 shots.

And all that was just the first half.

This one belonged to Northwestern right from the start. The Wildcats scored in the first minute and never looked back, never trailed and ran away from North Carolina. Northwestern scored 10 in a row and 15 overall in the first half to quickly turn the game into a laugher and come away with its fifth straight national title after a 21-7 victory over the Tar Heels before 6,515 fans at Johnny Unitas Stadium.

The Wildcats finished with a 23-0 record and now have won 29 straight games overall as well as 20 consecutive NCAA tournament games. They’ve posted a 106-3 record during their five-year title run, but this is the first season that this group of seniors went unbeaten. 

“I just can’t put into words how proud I am of this team, this group of seniors,” said Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who also won two NCAA titles while playing at Maryland. “It was a great display of incredible lacrosse today, and I was just pleased that I could be a part of it.”

Bowen led Northwestern with five goals while Danielle Spencer added four goals and one assist, and Matthews scored three times. Nielsen finished with six assists and took only one shot. Dowd was named Most Outstanding Player and finished with four goals and two assists.

The Wildcats also set a number of records, including most goals in a half and overall in the championship game. In addition, the 21 goals are the most ever scored by a team in any NCAA tournament game. Northwestern also set other marks including most points in a season (570), goals in a season (407), team and individual goals in a tournament (73 as a team and Katrina Dowd with 22), assists in a tournament (Nielsen, 16) and average goals per game (18.3).

The 23 wins also ties a Division I mark for most in a season – Maryland also did it in 2001 while winning that national title.

Northwestern played aggressively on offense throughout the game, driving to the net, making all kinds of perfectly-timed passes to cutters right in front of North Carolina goalie Logan Ripley, who often had little or no chance, as many of the goals came on shots from inside of five yards.

In fact, Ripley didn’t make her first save until just 8:20 remained – and Northwestern had a 20-5 lead. Ripley finished with just two stops.
“This was not our best game of the year,” said North Carolina coach Jenny Levy. “We struggled on offense, then struggled on defense. We’re certainly disappointed.”

The Wildcats needed fewer than14 minutes to score 10 straight goals and jump out to a 14-2 lead with 1:07 left in the first half. They scored on free-position shots, used great dodges, made perfect passes – it all worked out.

Northwestern took 17 first-half shots and scored 15 times. It doesn’t get much better than that.

“Our offense was really firing in the first half,” Nielsen said. “We were working as a unit and moving the ball well. Before the game, we talked about how important that would be to get everybody working as a unit instead of seven individual players.”

That’s why Northwestern ended a perfect season with a perfect game. Fans who came to Baltimore to watch certainly loved it, starting a chant of “un-de-feated, un-de-feated” as the clock wound down in the final minutes.

“It feels very special to me,” said Amonte Hiller. “Every championship has been special in different ways. We had to overcome a lot of adversity to get here, so that makes it satisfying.”

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