May 25, 2012

Northwestern Advances to Eighth Straight Final

by Chris R. Vaccaro | 

NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Semifinals

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STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Almost a year to the day of Northwestern beating Maryland in last year's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship game at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium, the Wildcats again issued a season-ending blow to the Terrapins at the same venue.

Second-seeded Northwestern (20-2) rallied with four straight second-half goals and hung on for a 9-7 NCAA semifinal victory Friday night on Long Island. The Wildcats advance to their eighth straight NCAA championship game, where they will face fourth-seeded Syracuse (19-3) on Sunday night.

Midfielder Taylor Thornton snagged seven draw controls and scored two goals in the second half Friday to help Northwestern defeat Maryland 9-7 in the NCAA semifinals at LaValle Stadium. The Wildcats trailed 6-4 before finishing on a 5-1 run. "I never once felt rattled by [the deficit]," Thornton said.

© Lee Weissman

"I think our girls played with a lot of heart and poise," said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who became the winningest coach (31-2) in NCAA Division I women's lacrosse tournament history. "We could not be more excited to be in another championship game."

Maryland (19-5) built a 5-4 lead in the first half on goals from five different players. It added another tally to take a 6-4 lead early in the second half when ACC Player of the Year and Tewaaraton Award finalist Katie Schwarzmann scored her second goal of the game.

Playing with its usual consistent scoring approach, however, the Wildcats recorded four unanswered goals by four different players to take an 8-6 lead and modest command of the contest. During that scoring stretch, Kara Mupo, Amanda Macaluso, Lacey Vigmostad and Tewaaraton Award finalist Taylor Thornton buried shots past Maryland goalie Brittany Dipper, who made five saves in the loss.

"I never once felt rattled by [the deficit]," said Thornton, who got the better of her matchup with Schwarzmann. "We've been through this so many times. It's a testament to how resilient this team is."

Chalk up a commanding draw control game to the constant possession in the second half. Northwestern, led by Thornton (seven draw controls) and Alyssa Leonard (four), outdrew Maryland 13-5 by game's end.

"We like to have possession, have control," Thornton said.

Maryland threatened when Schwarzmann, who finished the season with 72 goals, scored her third goal at the 13:37 mark. But Thornton's insurance tally on a free position at 1:26 sealed Northwestern's fate. Maryland drew four yellow cards as it tried in vain to regain possession in the final minutes.

"When we had possession, we had a few too many turnovers and just couldn't do what we needed to do," Schwarzmann said.

Shannon Smith had four assists, two in each half, in the victory for the Wildcats.

Northwestern and Maryland played each other in the last two national championship games, with Maryland winning in 2010 and Northwestern winning last year. It was Maryland's fourth straight NCAA semifinal appearance.

Northwestern turns its attention to Syracuse for Sunday's championship showdown. The Wildcats beat the Orange earlier in the season, 11-9, in overtime. Syracuse erased a seven-goal deficit to defeat top-seeded Florida 14-13 in double overtime and advance.

"Watching Syracuse in the last two games, they are a thrilling team," Amonte Hiller said. "They're very explosive when they need to be. We're going to have to play great team defense and do the same thing on offense."

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