April 18, 2010

North Carolina Ends Northwestern's Streak at 41

by Sean Collins Walsh | Special to Lacrosse Magazine Online

UNC goalie Logan Ripley saved three free position shots down the stretch to help the Heels end Northwestern's winning streak.

© TD Paulius/Midwest Lacrosse Photography

EVANSTON, Ill. - In a rematch of last year's national championship game, No. 2 North Carolina broke No. 1 Northwestern's 41-game winning streak with an 18-16 victory Sunday afternoon.

The loss was the Wildcats' first since falling to Pennsylvania 11-7 on April 27, 2008. The Tar Heels (13-1) are the only team to score 18 goals against the Cats (12-1) since they gained varsity status in 2002. Northwestern had never lost on its own turf during Lakeside Field's two-year history and dropped their last home game six years ago in overtime against Vanderbilt.

Sunday's matchup was also the first lacrosse game to be televised live on the Big Ten Network and broke NU's home attendance record with 1,705 fans.

For coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, whose Wildcats beat UNC 21-7 in last year's NCAA title match for their fifth trophy in as many years, the difference Sunday was passion.

"This has been something that I've been saying for at least four weeks, and it hasn't really penetrated in their minds," she said. "I think it just penetrated."

Both teams came out firing on offense and sloppy on defense.

After going down 6-2, UNC scored six consecutive goals from four different scorers in the middle of the first half. The balanced barrage resulted mostly from a mix of set plays from X and dodges from the wings. In both scenarios, late slides cost the Wildcats their early lead.

NU quickly answered with its own six-goal run, including three goals and one assist from senior attacker Katrina Dowd, who tied her NU-career high with seven goals on the day. On one score, Dowd dodged two Tar Heel defenders and outran another before finding the back of the net with a low bounce shot.

The streaky first half, which featured four lead changes and four ties, finished at 12-12. The teams were separated by exactly one tally in shots, fouls, draw controls, free-position opportunities and ground balls at intermission.

The second stanza proved to be a more controlled battle, with only 10 goals total. Aside from a brief tie at 13-13, North Carolina never trailed, and no Tar Heel scored more than once.

Dowd, however, scored three of the Wildcats' four second-half tallies.

While most of the major statistics stayed relatively even, one difference stood out in the last 30 minutes: saves. UNC goalie Logan Ripley, last year's IWLCA goalie of the year, stopped seven of the 11 on-target shots she faced, compared to two of eight from NU sophomore Brianne LoManto.

After being benched toward the end of the first half, Ripley proved indispensable down the stretch, stopping four point-blank shots including three free-position opportunities.

"We were just trying to settle her down," Levy said of her decision to temporarily pull her star net-minder. "I'm glad that she finished as strong as she did because I think she was the margin of victory down the stretch."

Perhaps the biggest individual surprise in Northwestern's loss was the absence of senior attacker Danielle Spencer in the score box.

"I've got to find a way to score goals in games like this," said Spencer, who had one assist and missed the net on several open shots. "I'm disappointed in myself, but the loss was what we needed to work harder this next week."

The Wildcats will close the regular season with three home games next week against Vanderbilt, Florida and Virginia the only team to defeat UNC this year. The Tar Heels will compete in the ACC Tournament on Thursday and finish up at Cornell in May.

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