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    Wildcats Reach NCAA Final With 8-4 Win Over Dartmouth

    NUSPORTSDOTCOM Sarah Albrecht helped lead NU to its first NCAA national championship appearance.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM
    Sarah Albrecht helped lead NU to its first NCAA national championship appearance.
    NUSPORTSDOTCOM

    May 20, 2005

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    ANNAPOLIS, Md. -- On a night when a sloppy field at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium neutralized arguably the two most athletic teams in NCAA women's lacrosse, the Northwestern women's lacrosse team was able to gut out an 8-4 win over Dartmouth. The victory moved the Wildcats -- in just their fourth season back as a varsity program -- into the NCAA championship game to be played Sunday at 2:30 p.m. (1:30 p.m. Central).

    Northwestern's opponent in the final? Virginia, the team that ended the Wildcats' season last year in the NCAA quarterfinal round en route to the national championship. The Cavaliers -- who defeated Duke 15-13 in Friday's second semifinal -- are the last team to beat NU in women's lacrosse.

    "This is our new tradition and this is our new program," said NU head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who will coach her team as it tries to win just the school's second NCAA team championship (the first came in men's fencing in 1941). "We are just trying to do the best we can day-to-day to improve as a team. The coaching staff has done a great job in working with the players to get better. I can't say enough about all the hard work everyone in this program has put in to making this a great team."

    "It is an indescribable feeling to be playing in the final and getting all the support we have gotten from the Northwestern community," said senior Sarah Albrecht, who led the way again Friday night with three goals -- all unassisted -- and NU's only assist. "It is hard to describe the amazing feeling of coming into this program and building it to where it is right now over the last four years."

    Northwestern (20-0) grabbed 31 ground balls to Dartmouth's 26, picked up nine of the game's 14 draw controls, and showed good control in possessing the ball. More impressive was the Wildcats' defense, as they allowed the fourth-seeded Big Green (16-3) to take just 11 shots on the night (more than 18 below Dartmouth's average for the season).

    "This is a great win for our program and we are very excited right now," said Amonte Hiller. "We could not be more thrilled to be representing Northwestern in the final Sunday. Our girls played their hearts out, and overall it was a great win because we handled the weather well. Each individual stepped up and played really hard tonight."

    Northwestern did indeed seem to adjust better to the conditions -- a hard rain drove all day on Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium, right through most of the game -- which had players on both sides slipping and sliding all over the place. the result was a lot of sloppy passes and several mishandled cradles.

    "One of the things we really focused on was to keep our footing the best we can," said senior defender Ashley Koester. "We were able to keep up our momentum when we weren't falling down. It helped that we had screw-in cleats; we were able to use longer cleats to help us keep our footing."

    NU scored first when Lindsey Munday knocked home a free-position shot just 2:31 into the contest. The goal gave Munday 102 points for the season, which tied the program record set in 1987 by Kate Oleykowski. Munday then broke the mark when she scored an unassisted goal eight minutes later.

    Nearly four minutes would pass before another goal came, and again it was Northwestern who hit paydirt when Albrecht knocked home an unassisted goal. Kristen Kjellman made it 4-0 just 90 seconds later with her own unassisted goal, her team-leading 53rd of the season.

    It looked like the Northwestern defense was going to end the half with a shutout, but with just three seconds left Sarah Szefi finished a nice feed from Whitney Douthett. That made the score 4-1 at the break.

    "We were a little disappointed and frustrated that we gave up a goal that late after playing great defense to that point," said Albrecht. "I think that goal made us come out in the second and play harder so that we wouldn't allow them to get back into the contest."

    It was Albrecht who got things rolling for the `Cats in the first minute of the second half, cruising in for an unassisted goal to make the score 5-1, but Dartmouth responded with a quick-stick goal by Katieanne Christian (assisted by Douthett).

    A critical juncture then occurred, favoring Northwestern. The Wildcats got another unassisted goal from Albrecht -- her third of the game and seventh in two games -- and then more than 12 minutes passed before anyone else scored. Both teams had several possessions and opportunities to get the critical next goal, and it finally came when NU's Christy Finch converted a free-position shot with 12:05 remaining to make the score 7-2.

    Dartmouth finally got one of the goals back four minutes later when Kristen Zimmer converted a quick-stick off a Margo Duke feed, but then Northwestern won the draw and went into possession mode that ran the clock down. More than six minutes would pass before Kjellman got wide open in front, took a feed from Albrecht, and fired the ball into an open goal.

    Christian -- like Kjellman a finalist for the 2005 Tewaaraton Trophy as the nation's outstanding player -- scored in the game's final minute to close out the scoring.

    Courtney Koester had a monster game in the middle for Northwestern, coming up with five ground balls and six draw controls. Emily Lovett also had five ground balls, while Kjellman had four and Albrecht had three.

    (1) NORTHWESTERN 8, (4) DARTMOUTH 4
    NCAA Semifinal Round Game

    Score by Half
    (4) Dartmouth (16-3) 1 3 - 4
    (1) Northwestern (20-0) 4 4 - 8

    Goals
    NU: Albrecht 3, Munday 2, Kjellman 2, Finch.
    DART: Christian 2, Szefi, Zimmer.

    Assists
    NU: Albrecht.
    DART: Douthett, Duke.

    Goalkeeper Saves
    NU: Gersuk 3
    DART: Wills 9

    Shots: NU 22, Dartmouth 11
    Free-Position Goals/Attempts: NU 2/5, Dartmouth 0/2
    Ground Balls: NU 31, Dartmouth 26
    Caused Turnovers: Dartmouth 13, NU 6
    Draw Controls: NU 9, Dartmouth 4
    Fouls: Dartmouth 31, NU 15