Northwestern lacrosse vs. Maryland: Final Four preview


Better late than never, it's the SoP women's lacrosse Final Four preview!

Tonight, at 7 p.m. CT on the worldwide streaming leader, ESPN3.com, on the hallowed Long Island grounds of Stony Brook University, our Wildcats renew hostilities with Maryland, our hated rivals who have a terrible, terrible men's basketball team that hasn't even made the NIT in the last four years. Gosh, I still can't get over how we were relegated to the Maryland matchup in the Big Ten-ACC Challenge.

Their women's lax team is alright, though.

The last time these two teams met, NU was celebrating its sixth national title in seven years, with a thoroughly dominating 8-7 blowout of the Terrapins in the championship final. I'm not sure why they didn't go to a running clock or invoke the mercy rule, our runaway 1-goal beatdown so demoralizing for the Maryland fans and players.

The year before that, Maryland shockingly upset NU, 13-10, also in the championship final, in a game that demonstrated how the Wildcats have compassion for the lacrosse bourgeouisie and from time to time allow a lesser team to win a national title to boost its self-esteem.

But back to this year's game, which if you're following along, makes it three years in a row that NU and Maryland have met in the Final Four. As you might suspect, this being the Final Four and all, it'll be a tough matchup for our Wildcats.

Maryland comes in 19-3 overall, ranked No. 3. NU is 19-2 and ranked No. 2. The Terrapins boast the 5th best scoring offense in Division 1 and also the 5th stingiest defense. The Wildcats counter with the 13th best scoring offense and the 2nd best scoring defense.

Individually, Maryland is led by Tewaaraton Award finalist Katie Schwarzmann, a junior midfield who has 65 goals and 22 assists. Also stuffing the stat sheet are senior attack Kari Ellen Johnson with 53 goals, 18 assists and 76 draw controls, and junior attack Alex Aust with 44 goals and 52 assists. Three other Terrapins have scored at least 37 goals each. In goal, senior Brittany Dipper is fourth in Division 1 with a 7.82 GAA.

The Wildcats have their own Tewaaraton Award finalist in junior defender Taylor Thornton (30 goals, 53 ground balls), whose all-around game earned her Womenslax.com Player of the Year honors earlier this week. The NU attack is led by Wildcat career goals leader Shannon Smith, a Long Island native who has 64 goals and 22 assists on the year. Junior midfield Erin Fitzgerald has scored 53 goals, and in goal, senior Brianne LoManto has the second-best GAA in Division 1, at 7.23. NU is also coached by a soon-to-be National Lacrosse Hall of Famer, Kelly Amonte Hiller.

NU has made a habit of starting off games slow this year, but except against Florida, the Wildcats have always been able to come back strong in the second half after making some adjustments. If I were trying to do some actual cliched analysis of this matchup, I'd say that NU won't be able to afford another slow start against such a talented, well-rounded squad like Maryland.

But that's too easy. My take? NU should try to start even slower, so that late arriving fans will be like, "Wait, what? The Terrapins are already up 12-0? Ah, they'll just blow it like the Maryland basketball team." And they will.

So, let's examine the other side of the Final Four bracket to see who our championship opponent might be. No. 1 seed Florida, who has beaten NU twice this year, faces No. 4 seed Syracuse, whom NU beat real early in the season. I think we can all agree, those of us who are NU lax fans, that we've seen enough of Florida this year. So the key to winning the championship is if Syracuse beats Florida. I know for a fact that Greg Paulus won't be suiting up, so an NU championship is all but assured.

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