EVANSTON, Ill. -- Second-seeded Northwestern and 25 other teams across the country are ready to lift the curtain on a newly expanded NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament this weekend, as the Wildcats set out for a third consecutive national championship and the program's eighth in nine seasons.
In a postseason format being rolled out for the first time in 2013, Northwestern is serving as one of eight regional hosts for first and second-round NCAA Championship competition. On Friday, 20th-ranked Stanford upset No. 9 Notre Dame at Lakeside Field to earn its first-ever NCAA Tournament victory and a second-round date with the Wildcats at 1 p.m. CT Sunday on NU's home turf.
Tickets to Sunday's contest may be purchased at the Lakeside Field ticket booth for $8 (adults), $5 (senior citizens, students and youth) and $1 (infants). All Northwestern students will be admitted at no charge upon presentation of a valid WildCard, courtesy of Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
Victorious 'Cats Draw Tournament's No. 2 Seed
Northwestern landed the NCAA Championship's No. 2 overall seed for the fourth straight season after capturing the 2013 American Lacrosse Conference Championship with an upset win over No. 2 Florida on Sunday, in the process avenging a loss to the Gators suffered during the regular season. Thanks largely to seven draw controls by Alyssa Leonard and a 10-3 edge on draws for the game, Northwestern dominated possession and took advantage of a 24-9 advantage in shots to upend the favored Gators, 8-3, in Baltimore. Defensively, NU held Florida's top two scorers on the year to a combined one point and received several timely saves by goalkeeper Bridget Bianco to secure a sixth ALC Tournament crown in seven years.
Sizing Up The Bracket
As women's lacrosse continues to grow at the Division I level, the NCAA responded last August when it announced that the bracket for the national tournament would expand from 16 to 26 teams. The decision was made after the number of automatic bids from conferences across the country reached 13 this season, demanding an equal number of 13 at-large berths become available. Northwestern, which is joined by Florida and Penn State in representing the ALC, boasts a 12-2 record this season against teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, including wins over the bracket's No. 4, 5, 7 and 8 seeds.
All She Does Is Win
During her team's run to a seventh NCAA championship in eight years, Kelly Amonte Hiller raised her career coaching record in tournament play to 32-2, surpassing her mentor Cindy Timchal as the winningest postseason coach in women's lacrosse history in terms of both wins and winning percentage (.825). An eighth national championship for Amonte Hiller this spring would tie her with Timchal for most all time in women's lacrosse and the eighth-most ever in a Division I women's team sport.
Scouting the Cardinal
Stanford earned its third trip to the NCAA Tournament in four years when it nabbed the automatic bid out of the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF), upsetting top-seeded Denver, 7-6, in the championship game. That victory proved to be a sign of things to come for the Cardinal, who then came to Evanston and scored an enormous 8-7 upset win over No. 9 Notre Dame on Friday night. Stanford held a 6-3 second-half lead only to watch as the Irish scored four in a row to seize a 7-6 advantage late. But Stanford tied things up with 1:51 to play and notched the game-winner off a free position attempt by Hannah Farr with four seconds left to play to earn the program's first-ever NCAA Tournament win.
Stanford is making its second appearance at Lakeside Field in less than a month after squaring off with Northwestern back on April 14, a game in which the Wildcats held a one-goal lead at halftime but limited Stanford to just one tally in the second half en route to a 12-8 victory. NU goalkeeper Bridget Bianco recorded nine saves in the win while Stanford's top two point-scorers on the season to that point -- Rachel Ozer and Kyle Fraaser -- were both kept off the scoresheet.
The April 14 contest against the Wildcats marked one of only three times this season in which the high-scoring Cardinal attack did not reach double digits in goals scored; Stanford is averaging 14.2 goals per outing on 30.5 shots per game, led by Ozer's 69 points. NU fans might also remember three impressive goals scored by Stanford's Julia Burns against the 'Cats; Burns enters play this weekend with 28 goals and 40 points.
Thornton Up For National Honors from Sports Illustrated
Northwestern senior standout Taylor Thornton has been named one of five female finalists for Sports Illustrated's College Athlete of the Year honor, the outlet announced Wednesday. After profiling each of five finalists on both the men's and women's sides, Sports Illustrated and SI.com will select one male and female winner who best embodies excellent achievement on the field and in the classroom, good sportsmanship and commitment to the community. The three-time IWLCA All-American and 2012 Honda Sports Award winner has recently moved into third place on the school's career lists for both caused turnovers (96) and ground balls (172), needing 11 ground balls to match Christy Finch's all-time record of 183. Additionally, Thornton stands seventh in career draw controls (189) and could conceivably climb has high as third with a strong finish on the circle in the postseason.
Northwestern saw 1,672 fans pack the seats at Lakeside Field during its Senior Day victory over Pennsylvania on a picture-perfect afternoon in Evanston. The figure represents the second-largest crowd at a lacrosse game since the construction of Lakeside Field prior to the 2008 season, behind only the Wildcats' April 18, 2010 matchup with North Carolina (1,705). The Wildcats drew an average attendance of 1,053 fans during its eight regular-season home games, the best per-game average in school history and once again ranking NU among the nation's attendance leaders this season.
She's The Top
Not yet through her junior season as a Wildcat, Alyssa Leonard now boasts every major school record related to draw controls after last week surpassing Danielle Spencer's single-season mark of 110 established in 2010. Leonard, already NU's career leader with 293 draw controls, stands at 112 after recording seven against Florida Sunday afternoon, placing her fifth in Division I women's lacrosse this year with 5.89 per game. The previous NCAA single-season record of 126 set by Maryland's Dana Dobbie in 2008 has already fallen this year, with Robert Morris freshman Jessica Karwacki recording a stunning 152 in 16 games with the Colonials this season. Leonard's 293 career draws rank fifth all-time in Division I, with current Lafayette junior Ana White (297) and NU assistant coach Hillary Fratzke (327) representing the next targets within Leonard's reach.
Coming On Strong
The Northwestern attack has been bolstered in recent games by the emergence of two additional scoring threats in juniors Kelly Rich and Kat DeRonda. After DeRonda and Rich posted hat tricks against Notre Dame and Penn, respectively, in the final two games of the regular season, the duo set the tone in Northwestern's upset of Florida in the ALC title game on Sunday. DeRonda set up Rich for the game's first goal two and a half minutes in, and eight minutes later the two traded roles for NU's second goal and the first of four straight scored by the Wildcats. In all, Rich and DeRonda combined for five goals and two assists to help NU down the Gators.