EVANSTON, Ill. -- While six Atlantic Coast Conference programs battle for three tickets to NCAA championship weekend, No. 5 Northwestern and No. 4 Florida are set to wage their own intra-conference rematch this Saturday in the quarterfinals of the 2014 NCAA Championship. Having already played a pair of down-to-the-wire one-goal games this season, the perennial American Lacrosse Conference rivals will be squaring off in the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, each looking to secure a trip to the national semifinals in Towson, Md.
Opening draw at Florida's Donald R. Dizney Lacrosse Stadium in Gainesville is slated for 2 p.m. ET/1 p.m. CT Saturday, making it the last of the four quarterfinal contests to get underway.
For Kelly Amonte Hiller and the seven-time NCAA champion Wildcats, a victory over Florida would mean a 10th consecutive appearance in the national semifinals, though it would be the first time in Amonte Hiller's tenure that NU won on the road to reach championship weekend. Northwestern has played one previous NCAA quarterfinal game away from home, a 15-11 loss to eventual champion Virginia on May 16, 2004. Florida, meanwhile, is looking to be one of the last four teams remaining in the NCAA Tournament for the second time in program history, after falling to Syracuse in the semifinals in 2012 -- the most recent of Northwestern's seven championship seasons.
Saturday's winner will be competing Memorial Day Weekend at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md., site of the 2014 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship. The Wildcats have taken part in three previous championship weekends at the venue during their near-decade-long dynasty (2008-10).
How to Watch
Subscribers of DirecTV will be able to watch Saturday's matchup live on Fox Sports Florida (channel 654) while those following online should expect to find an audio-only broadcast of the game GatorZone.com/lacrosse. As always, live stats and live in-game tweets also will be available.
Those planning to attend the match in person can purchase tickets in advance or on gameday at a cost of $5 for adults and $3 for students, senior citizens and children 12 and under.
The Last Meeting
|No. 3 Florida||9
May 4, 2014
More On the Northwestern-Florida Series
This marks the second time in the modern era of NU Lacrosse and the second time in as many seasons that the Wildcats are facing an opponent for a third time in the same season, after the 'Cats swept Penn State in three meetings a year ago.
Both the regular season and ALC championship meetings between Northwestern and Florida might best be described as tales of two halves, and as evidence of the determination that both teams exhibit game in and game out. On April 19, Florida held a commanding 11-5 lead with less than 17:30 remaining in the game before Northwestern turned the tables to score six of the game's last seven goals. The Wildcats nearly completed their comeback when Kara Mupo appeared to score the game-tying goal with a superb individual effort, but she was deemed to have stepped in the crease in the process of scoring and the goal was removed from the scoreboard.
Two weeks later, the Wildcats played a near flawless first half to speed to a 7-2 lead in the ALC Championship game, but the Gators matched their level of play after halftime and scored the go-ahead goal with less than a minute remaining to escape Lakeside Field with a second straight one-goal victory. Alyssa Leonard finished with eight draw controls in the loss for NU.
Kelly Amonte Hiller-coached squads have been beaten twice in the same season by the same opponent only three times in her 13 seasons at Northwestern, with Florida responsible for two of those instances (2012, 2014). Since Amonte Hiller took over in 2002, Amonte Hiller is 5-3 all-time in rematches against teams it lost to earlier in the season, including a win on May 2 against an Ohio State squad that clipped the Wildcats in overtime back in March. In both 2011 and 2013, Northwestern fell to Florida in the regular season only to return the favor with a championship on the line, besting the top-seeded Gators in the ALC Championship game both seasons.
Florida will be facing Northwestern for the third time in five games, with their only other contests in that time frame coming in the ALC Tournament semifinals (11-6 win over Johns Hopkins) and in last Sunday's rain-delayed win over Denver (19-9) in the NCAA second round. The Gators boast the American Lacrosse Conference Midfield Player of the Year (Shannon Gilroy, 83 goals, 103 points, 81 draw controls) and the league's Rookie of the Year (Sammi Burgess, 36 goals, 23 ground balls), and their only two losses this season came in the season-opener at No. 1 North Carolina and on March 15 at No. 2 Syracuse.
Mupo on the Move
In the absence of prolific goal-scorer and dodger Kaleigh Craig, injured on April 13, Northwestern's attack received a noticeable boost from redshirt junior Kara Mupo, who ranks as Northwestern's active career leader in both goals (95) and points (113) and has scored at least three goals in five of NU's last six games. Mupo put up back-to-back four-goal efforts against No. 4 Florida and USC before topping that with five against Vanderbilt in the ALC Tournament first round. The five goals tied Mupo's career high set twice before, both in 2012 in wins over Louisville and Navy. Originally a member of the class of 2014, Mupo will be back for the Wildcats next season after redshirting the 2013 campaign due to injury.
Carroll Coming On
Another Wildcat who has helped fill the void left by Craig has been junior Jess Carroll, who has been inserted into the attack and has made the most of her opportunities. Carroll recorded her first career multi-point game with two goals in NU's 13-12 defeat vs. Florida and matched that feat in NU's first-round NCAA Tournament win vs. Louisville, scoring two of Northwestern's first three goals. The Houston native now has eight goals this season (11 for her career) to go along with 14 ground balls.
Year One A Resounding Success for Nesselbush
Midfielder Sheila Nesselbush has quietly put together a stellar rookie campaign for the Wildcats as the only NU freshman with a starting role this season. The Rochester-area native is third on the team with 25 ground balls and last Sunday scored a goal in her debut in the NCAA Tournament, her third tally of the season.
Leonard Continues to Cruise in Draw Circle
As her outstanding Northwestern career reaches its stretch run, senior Alyssa Leonard has remained as consistent as ever in the draw circle for NU, winning eight more draws in her last nine outings to bring her season total to 153 -- tied for the third-highest total in NCAA history. Last week, Leonard went toe to toe with Louisville's Kaylin Morissette -- one of only two players to amass more draw controls than Leonard this season -- and dominated the action with nine draws compared to Morissette's three. Leonard has raised her Division I career record total to 459, good for an average of 5.33 per game over her outstanding career. Leonard also has been a catalyst for the Wildcats attack, scoring at least two goals in seven of her last eight games to assume the team lead in points with 47.
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