April 24, 2011

Smith Makes It Personal, Sparks Northwestern to Key Win over Stanford

by Robbie Levin | LaxMagazine.com | Live Blog Replay

Relatively contained in Northwestern's losses to Florida and Johns Hopkins, Shannon Smith busted out for seven goals and the game-winning assist Sunday in a 12-11 victory over Stanford.

© Jim Cowsert

EVANSTON, Ill.—When Shannon Smith tossed the ball over the net with 23 seconds left, she knew she hadn't thrown the best pass. Parked in her normal position behind Stanford's goal, Smith let the ball fly when she saw teammate Alex Frank charging toward the crease. Luckily for Smith, Frank was able to corral the ball and fire a quick-stick shot past Cardinal netminder Annie Read, giving No. 5 Northwestern a 12-11 victory over Stanford.

"I love passing to Alex," Smith said. "I had all the confidence in the world with her. I was a little iffy on my pass. When I threw it I was like, 'Oh, that wasn't the best pass,' but she caught it and got it in."

Frank's goal dashed the seventh-ranked Cardinal's upset bid and put Northwestern (14-2) in the driver's seat to host a playoff game in the first round of the upcoming NCAA tournament. After losing consecutive games for the first time in eight years—including its first loss to an unranked team since 2003—Northwestern returned home to Lakeside Field to knock off No. 20 Ohio State on Friday and Stanford on Sunday.

In both games, the Wildcats relied heavily on Smith, their Tewaaraton Trophy frontrunner who entered the weekend leading the nation with 5.57 points per game. Smith struggled mightily in Northwestern's losses to Florida and Johns Hopkins, managing just four goals and two assists.

"I took those two losses really personally," Smith said. "I really took it upon myself to change what I was doing and turn it around for the rest of the season. I wasn't going to be the one to let my teammates down again."

Smith's new intensity was evident Friday as she notched four goals and chipped in a pair of assists against the Buckeyes. Then the junior from West Babylon, N.Y., scorched Stanford for seven goals—all of which were unassisted—and one crucial assist. Those seven goals tied a career-high for Smith, matching the mark she set last year against Vanderbilt in the ALC championship game.

"Our team really worked on cutting a lot," Smith said. "My teammates did an awesome job at cutting. I just dodged right off their backs, and that's where the openings were there."

Throughout the game Stanford (14-2) stymied Northwestern's attacking offense, forcing Smith to create for herself rather than dish to her teammates. Outside of Smith, the Cardinal effectively shut down the Wildcats' attackers; Frank's goal was one of just two assisted Northwestern goals. Stanford also limited Northwestern's signature cutting near the net, and in the process the Cardinal forced 11 turnovers.

"I thought we really had a good plan going in as far as playing a good, solid helping defense," Stanford coach Amy Bokker said. "We had made some adjustments with our defense to play a little bit more in a helping position."

Whereas Smith was the only player in purple to notch more than one score, Stanford once again spread the wealth, as three players recorded at least two goals. Emilie Boeri led the Cardinal with a hat trick, while Leslie Foard and Lauren Schmidt each tallied two goals.

With both defenses clamping down, neither team was able to convert fast break opportunities until Stanford tallied two transition goals late in the second half to cut Northwestern's lead to one. With 90 seconds left, Foard floated in her second goal of the game, ripping a shot over LoManto's head to tie it at 11. In a contest that included four ties but no lead changes, that was as close as the Cardinal got.

"I felt like we had a pretty good plan coming in," Bokker said. "We just had some unlucky bounces toward the end."

The Cardinal, the regular season MPSF champion after knocking off UC Davis on Wednesday, now heads to St. Mary's for the conference tournament. Meanwhile, Northwestern concludes its regular season with a trip to No. 10 Virginia next weekend.

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