Seven national titles, and the winning never gets old.
Northwestern used its trademark tough defense, an effective possession-control game plan in the second half, and outstanding games from its top offensive players in defeating Syracuse, 8-6, for yet another NCAA championship. The Wildcats rallied from a 3-1 deficit and limited Syracuse's high-flying duo of Alyssa Murray and Michelle Tumolo to just one goal each. Credit NU defensive ace Kerri Harrington yet again for another great job in shutting down an offensive rainmaker in Tumolo. Tumolo, a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, in fact, watched the end of the game from the sideline, getting two frustration yellow cards in the last 4:42.
NU's top offensive players stepped up, as well. Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Taylor Thornton had the game-winner and a team-high three ground balls; Shannon Smith had 2 goals and 2 assists; and Erin Fitzgerald also chipped in two goals.
"To win a championship, you need your big players to play big, and they did, and all the other players played well around them," head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said in an interview with ESPNU after the game. "They were really focused all throughout this tournament, and they wanted it, and they played together, and they played hard, and they played great defense."
And then to give you some warm fuzzies, she added: "I'm just so proud to be representing such an amazing university."
The women's lacrosse landscape becomes more and more competitive each year, as the game continues to spread. Every year, NU looks more and more vulnerable, and after a regular season loss or two, the lacrosse world starts questioning whether the Wildcat dynasty will finally be toppled. But every Memorial Day weekend save one in the last eight years, Amonte Hiller draws up perfect game plans, taking advantage of her teams' best attributes to produce yet another national title.
The Wildcats have won championships with offense, and they've won with defense. This year, NU has had a habit of starting off slowly, and the NCAA tournament was no different. The Wildcats came back from deficits in each of their four postseason games, and once they got the lead, they'd control possession and wear down the clock.
In the championship game, the stalling technique, with either Casey Bocklet or Shannon Smith holding the ball behind the net in the offensive zone, drew some boos from impatient Syracuse fans, But the Orange, like many teams that have faced NU, chose not to attack the Wildcat ball handler until late, allowing NU to eat up huge chunks of clock.
So, another year, another well-deserved championship for Amonte HIller and crew. The Wildcat dynasty lives on. Next year, they'll have to deal with the losses to graduation of Smith and her 254 career goals, midfield/defender Alex Frank and her 105 caused turnovers (2nd all time at NU) and 198 draw controls (5th all time at NU), and goalkeeper Brianne LoManto and her 61 career wins, as well as the strong contributions of defender Lacey Vigmostad, defender Maria Tedeschi and midfielder Jessica Russo.
But the Wildcats will certainly not be devoid of talent, with the return of Thornton and Fitzgerald, among several key contributors. And NU will have Amonte Hiller working the Xs and Os. Looks like a good formula for an eighth national title. But for now, let's celebrate this one.