May 27, 2012
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NCAA Tournament - Championship Game
Site: Stony Brook, N.Y. (Kenneth P. LaValle Stadium)
Score: No. 2 Northwestern 8, No. 4 Syracuse 6
Records: NU (21-2, 4-1 ALC), Syracuse (19-4, 8-0 BIG EAST)
Next NU Event: Season Complete
Complete Box Score (PDF)
STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- A determined and driven Northwestern women's lacrosse team accomplished its ultimate goal and extended one of the most incredible dynasties in the history of college athletics, defeating No. 4 Syracuse, 8-6, Sunday night in Stony Brook to capture the program's seventh national championship in the last eight years.
Northwestern's seven NCAA championships rank second all-time behind only the 10 won by Maryland between 1986 and 2010.
The Wildcats received a go-ahead goal from Tewaaraton Award finalist Taylor Thornton to break a 6-6 tie with 9:55 remaining and protected its lead down the stretch, wrapping up a 21-2 championship season.
"To have such a great weekend and have executed our game plan and done so well all over the field, I'm just really proud of what these girls have done," said head coach and architect of the NU program Kelly Amonte Hiller, who has now been part of nine NCAA championships in her playing and coaching career. "As a coach, you can try to encourage and inspire, but it's the girls that do it on the field, and they were determined and they were really on a mission."
"I was pretty poised, we had possession on the attack and the idea was just to clear space and go to goal," Thornton said of her game-winner, which stemmed SU's momentum after a key goal by Michelle Tumolo. "I saw a good opening for my right hand and just kind of went for it."
Senior Shannon Smith took home her second straight NCAA Tournament MVP honor after a two-goal, two-assist performance in the championship game. Smith concludes her career with a Northwestern record 254 goals and moved into second all-time in NCAA history with 58 points scored in NCAA Tournament play.
In all, nine of NU's 10 points on the evening (eight goals, two assists) were recorded by Long Island natives playing close to home, one year after all eight NU goals in the 2011 championship game were scored by Long Islanders.
"To end my career back where it started back on Long Island, not a lot of people get to do that, and finally it really hit me, that to end here is amazing," Smith said. "The journey that we were on with this team since our first meeting in September, we had a lot of ups and downs but we really pulled it together."
Having her way in the draw circle all night was sophomore and Long Island native Alyssa Leonard, who helped NU win nine of 10 draws in the first half and 12 of 16 for the evening. Leonard snagged six draw controls by herself while junior Gabriella Flibotte was on the receiving end of five of the other six that Northwestern won.
Thornton and Leonard earned All-Tournament Team honors following the game and were joined in that respect by senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto and senior defender Alex Frank. LoManto, Frank, Lacey Vigmostad and Christy Turner keyed a Northwestern defensive effort that kept Syracuse 11 goals below its season scoring average, with four of its six goals coming on free position attempts.
Syracuse opened the game on a 2-0 run thanks to an early bounce shot by Katie Webster and, following turnovers by both teams on the ensuing draw, an 8-meter goal by Amy Cross. NU senior Jessica Russo put the Wildcats on the board, working her way across the fan and firing a right-handed blast past SU's Alyssa Constantino for her third goal in two games.
With the Wildcats hampered by five early turnovers, Syracuse made it 3-1 on a free position goal scored with seven seconds remaining on a two-minute penalty assessed to Alex Frank.
Nearly midway through the first half, NU cut into the deficit when Smith -- who dealt with a faceguard much of the night -- finally was able to control the ball and set up shop on offense, feeding a cutting Erin Fitzgerald for a goal to set the score at 3-2. Fitzgerald then rang her next shot off the post, and the Orange were able to earn and convert another 8-meter opportunity on their ensuing possession to restore a two-goal edge.
Another draw control win for Alyssa Leonard returned the ball to the Wildcats and NU's Amanda Macaluso was able to put away the Wildcats' first free position chance of the game to pull NU to within one, 4-3. Northwestern drew level on its next possession when Smith fed Casey Bocklet off a free position restart at the 5:59 mark and, four minutes later, took its first lead when Smith dropped to the underhand to fire a low shot past Constantino for her first goal of the night.
Coming out of halftime, Constantino made three straight saves on Northwestern's opening possession of the second half -- the first two on free position attempts -- to keep the Wildcat advantage at one. Northwestern remained patient on offense, however, often waiting to get the ball to the closely guarded Smith to set up its offense. Smith took care of the rest to score NU's next goal, backing down her defender and slinging one home at the 19:07 mark of the second half.
A goal less than a minute later by Alyssa Murray on the free position made it 6-5 Northwestern, and the Wildcats were kept in check over the next six minutes by more timely goalkeeping by SU's Constantino. A pair of Tewaaraton Award finalists then made their presence known, beginning with SU's Michelle Tumolo's wrapping of the crease for her first point of the night with 11:08 remaining.
Player-of-the-Year finalist Thornton had the answer for NU, however, coming back on the next Wildcat possession determined to create a chance for her team. Thornton did just that, racing across the fan and ripping a shot home to give the Wildcats the lead for good.
With the Orange beginning to pressure out on defense in an effort to regain possession, Fitzgerald saw an opportunity to run by her defender and whipped a shot across her body to provide Northwestern a two-goal cushion with 5:41 to play.
Syracuse mounted a threat on the other end, but saw a free position opportunity erased when an illegal stick was detected with 3:16 remaining to turn the ball back over to NU. Northwestern used its speed and stick skills to protect the ball down the stretch and secure the two-goal win and a 2012 NCAA championship.
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