June 1, 2011

Sheehan: Is This the Start of Another Northwestern Streak?

by Sheehan Stanwick Burch | LaxMagazine.com

Shannon Smith should win the Tewaaraton Award on Thursday, writes Sheehan Stanwick Burch, based on her NCAA championship heroics for Northwestern. Only a junior, Smith will lead a loaded Wildcats team that should be favored to repeat in 2012.

© Kevin P. Tucker

Northwestern did it again, and to be honest, I don't know why I ever doubted them.

Northwestern teams have a proven history of exacting revenge on opponents who are able to knock the Wildcats down. This year's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament was yet another example of this trend for Northwestern.

In the 2010 championship, a proud and dominant Northwestern program was stung in the loss to Maryland, as it saw a 6-0 lead slip away at the hands of the Terps. In 2011, the Wildcats, as they have demonstrated in the past, were able to avenge the 2010 title game loss with an 8-7 win over a Maryland team that was ranked No. 1 for the entire 2011 season. In doing so, Northwestern took the national championship trophy back to Evanston, Ill., for the sixth time in seven years.

Shannon Smith led the charge for Northwestern during the tournament, as she has done all season long for the Wildcats. She scored four goals each in the semifinal win over UNC and in the title game against the Terps. Smith showed her poise and confidence throughout the weekend, most notably in her drive to the cage for the winning goal against the Tar Heels. The way that she maintained possession in the final minutes against the Terps was also a major contributing factor in the win.

In watching the championship game, it was evident how much Maryland missed Karri Ellen Johnson. The Terps sorely missed her ability to win key draw controls and finish on shots. Johnson, Lacrosse Magazine's preseason player of the year, has been sidelined with a concussion since the end of March, played in 11 games this year and missed the final 12.

Despite this, Johnson finished the season third in points (51) and second in draw controls (35) for the Terps. That's right, you read that correctly. She played in less than half of the games this season, but still put up ridiculous numbers. KEJ is just a junior, so the Terps will be glad to have her back in the lineup in 2012, as they otherwise lose some key contributors from the 2011 team.

Looking ahead to next year, Northwestern returns so much talent, it's scary. The Wildcats only graduate four seniors and only two starters, Brooke Matthews and Colleen Magarity. Northwestern seems primed to repeat as national champion, and perhaps starting another streak of championships.

The 2011 season was tremendously exciting. I'm sad to see it end. The upsets kept many prognosticators busy trying to figure out who would make it to final four weekend.

About the Author

Sheehan Stanwick Burch, a former All-American at Georgetown, is a college women's lacrosse analyst for CBS College Sports. Check laxmagazine.com for columns and podcasts.

Before we bid farewell to 2011, there is one final award that will bring this season to a close. The Tewarraton Award, given to the top collegeiate men's and women's lacrosse each year, will be announced Thursday night in Washington, D.C. The five women's finalists are:

• Grace Gavin, Senior Midfield/Attack, Loyola University
• Emma Hamm, Junior Midfield/Attack, Duke University
• Sarah Mollison, Senior Attack, University of Maryland
• Katie Schwarzmann, Sophomore Midfield, University of Maryland
• Shannon Smith, Junior Midfield/Attack, Northwestern University

A case could be made for any of these young women to win the award, but I think Shannon Smith will take home the trophy.Smith  finished the season leading the nation in points per game (5.57). She scored four goals, including the game winner, in the 11-10 semifinal win over UNC, and she "chipped in" another four goals in the 8-7 championship game win over Maryland. Smith was also named MVP of the NCAA tournament.

Though Smith did not take home the American Lacrosse Conference Player of the Year, which went to Florida sophomore Kitty Cullen, I think another national championship (and a likely Tewarraton Trophy) will heal any feelings of being snubbed.

I have had blast sharing my thoughts about this season and on the women's game. I hope that you enjoyed my comments, even if you did not agree with them. Thanks for reading.

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