EVANSTON, Ill. -- Northwestern and Maryland, the two winningest programs in the history of NCAA women's lacrosse, are just months away from becoming perennial Big Ten Conference rivals. But before they do, they'll square off on championship weekend of the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse Tournament for the fourth time in five years, clashing in Friday night's second semifinal matchup (7:30 p.m. ET) at Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towson, Md.
The winner will advance to the NCAA championship game, scheduled for 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday, against the winner to come out of Friday's first semifinal, No. 2 Syracuse vs. No. 6 Virginia (4 p.m. ET).
How to Watch
Both semifinal contests on Friday night will be shown live online on ESPN3.com and will re-air on ESPNU on Saturday morning beginning at 8 a.m. CT. Sunday's national championship game is slated to air live on ESPNU. Fans also are encouraged to tune into the live radio and online broadcast of the game provided by WNUR Sports, the official radio home of Northwestern Lacrosse.
Setting the Stage
Since becoming the first lacrosse program outside the Eastern time zone to win an NCAA championship in 2005, the fifth-ranked Wildcats are now among the nation's last four teams standing for a staggering 10th consecutive year -- a streak that ranks second in NCAA history behind only the Terps' run of 12 from 1990-2001. NU is 1-1 this year against the other three teams competing this weekend (won, 13-12, vs. Virginia; lost, 11-7, at Syracuse; DNP Maryland).
Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has a wealth of championship experience at this weekend's host venue in Towson, Md. This year marks the fourth time during NU's decade of dominance that Johnny Unitas Stadium has staged the NCAA semifinals and championship game; Towson was the site of Northwestern's fourth and fifth championships in 2008 and 2009 as well as its runner-up finish to Maryland in 2010.
Northwestern is aiming to bounce back after a 2013 season in which it lost an NCAA semifinal game for the first time in nine tries under Amonte Hiller.
More on the Terrapins
With a 21-1 record and the No. 1 overall seed, Maryland has advanced to the NCAA semifinals for a sixth consecutive season after also winning the Atlantic Coast Conference for a sixth straight year.
Taylor Cummings and Megan Douty represent the Maryland women's lacrosse program on the five-player Tewaaraton finalist list. Cummings led Maryland with 111 draw controls, 34 ground balls and 28 caused turnovers and ranked second on the Terps' fourth-ranked scoring offense with 54 goals, 23 assists and 77 points. Douty, the ACC Defensive Player of the Year, led a Maryland defense that held opponents to a league best 7.86 goals per game, even as the conference featured four other teams in the nation's top 15 in scoring offense. (Courtesy UMTerps.com)
Kelly Amonte Hiller is 4-1 against her alma mater in her head coaching career, with the three most recent meetings all occurring on championship weekend.
Two members of the Wildcats in particular, senior Kerri Harrington and junior Jess Carroll, have a special connection to recent NU wins over the Terrapins. In 2011, Harrington made her first career appearance in Northwestern's starting lineup in the NCAA championship game against the Terps, assigned to faceguard Tewaaraton Award finalist Sarah Mollison. Harrington executed her job to perfection, holding Mollison without a point for the first time in 67 games and allowing the Wildcats to reclaim the title with an 8-7 victory.
A year later, Carroll also made her first career start on championship weekend against the Terps, this time in the semifinal round. Carroll helped NU slow Maryland's potent midfield attack led by Katie Schwarzmann as Northwestern moved on with a 9-7 win.
Senior-Laden Squad Rises to the Occasion
The 2014 Wildcats have enjoyed strong senior leadership all season long, but the elder 'Cats have taken their game to another in postseason play. It's not uncommon to see as many as five seniors in the attacking third for NU -- Alyssa Leonard, Kelly Rich, Kat DeRonda, Kate Macdonald, Christy Turner -- as well as a sixth, Kara Mupo, who began her career as a member of the class of 2014 before redshirting last season due to injury. Against Florida in the NCAA quarterfinals, nine of NU's 12 goals and 11 of 15 points were scored by players who were potentially playing their last game in a Wildcat uniform.
Two of those seniors in particular have become critical offensive playmakers in their final campaigns while maintaining their roles at the defensive end of the field as well. Christy Turner enters her last weekend as a Wildcat having scored at least one goal in her last 10 games; before that stretch began, Turner had tallied only 11 goals in her first 76 games played at NU. Similarly, Kate Macdonald has scored 14 goals and 22 points this season after entering the year with a combined nine goals and 13 points through her first three seasons.
Leonard Garners First All-America Honor
In what might be deemed a long-overdue accolade, Alyssa Leonard earned her first career All-America honor in her senior campaign, receiving second-team laurels from the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA). Leonard has been a driving force behind Northwestern's success for four straight years en route to becoming Division I women's lacrosse's all-time leader in draw controls (466). In addition to her school-record 160 draw controls this season, Leonard has also flourished on attack to the tune of a team-high 51 points.
Third Time's the Charm for NU vs. Florida
Tasked with going on the road in the NCAA quarterfinals for the first time since 2004, the 2014 Wildcats faced arguably the toughest path to championship weekend of any of their predecessors -- particularly when that road took them to Gainesville, Fla, where Florida had won 29 consecutive home games. The Wildcats suffered two stinging one-goal defeats to the talented Gators in the regular season (April 19) and ALC championship game (May 4), but last Saturday overcame the odds to earn a 12-11 overtime victory and a place in the NCAA semifinals once again. Trailing by three goals in both halves, Northwestern received three goals from senior Kat DeRonda -- including the game-winner with 16 seconds left in overtime -- as well as a hat trick and seven draw controls from Alyssa Leonard to win on the road at Florida for the first time in four attempts since 2011.
On The Record
Northwestern will be playing a top-10 ranked opponent for the 11th time in 20 games this season, winning seven of those 10 contests to date, including a win over then-No. 1 North Carolina on March 31. The Wildcats' No. 5 seed in this year's NCAA Tournament marks the first time since 2006 (No. 4) that NU has not been seeded either No. 1 or No. 2.