EVANSTON, Ill. -- Once again peaking when it matters most, second-ranked Northwestern heads to Philadelphia and Villanova University this weekend looking to extend one of the most impressive dynasties in collegiate sports. The Wildcats, winners of seven NCAA championships in the last eight years, will try to stay perfect in NCAA semifinal outings (8-0) when they face third-ranked North Carolina to lead off semifinal Friday in Philadelphia.
NU at NCAA Championship
The 'Cats and Heels are slated to renew their rivalry at 4 p.m. CT in Villanova Stadium, and fans can watch the action live on ESPN3.com. Should Northwestern advance to a record-breaking ninth consecutive appearance in the national title game, NU would face either No. 1 Maryland or No. 4 Syracuse -- the two teams against which Northwestern claimed the 2011 and 2012 national championships, respectively -- at 7 p.m. CT Sunday in a game televised nationwide on ESPNU.
All fans are invited to Buffalo Wild Wings in downtown Evanston for the official Northwestern Lacrosse NCAA Tournament Watch Parties. Buffalo Wild Wings will be showing Friday's semifinal matchup as well as a potential NU appearance in Sunday's championship game for all fans in attendance.
Additionally, Wildcats fans planning to join the excitement in Philadelphia are invited to join a postgame celebration of the 'Cats' tremendous season, hosted by the NU Club of Philly. The Club will head to Gullifty's (1149 Lancaster Ave., Rosemont, Pa.) and will be painting the town purple with fans and alumni of Northwestern.
Northwestern's Comeback Falls Short at No. 5 UNC, 11-8
An early-season matchup of national title hopefuls saw fifth-ranked North Carolina jump out to a 7-1 first-half lead and withstand No. 1 Northwestern's comeback efforts, as the Tar Heels notched an 11-8 victory at Fetzer Field in Chapel Hill Friday night.
Back To The City Of Brotherly Love
With the NCAA semifinals and championship game moving to Villanova this season, Northwestern will attempt to win a championship in the greater Philadelphia area for the second time. NU previously claimed the 2007 NCAA championship at historic Franklin Field, home of the Penn Quakers. The Wildcats actually defeated the Quakers on their home turf in the semifinals before outlasting Virginia, 15-13, to capture its third consecutive national title. NU has won titles in five different cities during its dynasty: Annapolis, Md. (2005), Boston (2006), Philadelphia (2007), Towson, Md. (2008-09) and Stony Brook, N.Y. (2011-12).
All She Does Is Win
In leading the Wildcats to a record-tying eight consecutive appearances in the NCAA championship game and two early-round wins this season, Kelly Amonte Hiller has raised her career record in the NCAA Tournament to 34-2 -- further cementing herself as the winningest postseason coach in women's lacrosse history in terms of both wins and winning percentage (.944). An eighth national championship for Amonte Hiller this weekend would tie her with Cindy Timchal, her former coach and mentor, for most all time in women's lacrosse and tied for the eighth-most ever in a Division I women's team sport.
Below is a bit more on the stunning postseason success NU has enjoyed under Amonte Hiller:
Northwestern is the No. 2 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament for the fourth consecutive season.
NU is riding a 10-game winning streak dating to the start of the 2011 NCAA Tournament, which is the fourth-longest streak in NCAA Women's Lacrosse Tournament history. The Wildcats set the all-time record by winning 23 in a row during their run of five straight titles, topping the 21 straight won by Maryland from 1995-2002.
By defeating Penn State in the quarterfinals, NU improved to 19-0 all-time in NCAA Tournament home games under Kelly Amonte Hiller.
Northwestern's nine consecutive semifinal appearances represent the second-longest streak in NCAA history, behind Maryland's 12 from 1990-2001.
Northwestern-North Carolina: Series Info
Just over three months to the day since being dealt its first loss of the season on a rainy February night in Chapel Hill, Northwestern has a second crack at North Carolina this weekend. The Tar Heels emerged as 11-8 winners in the regular-season meeting despite a dominant effort on the draw circle by Northwestern (16-5) -- specifically Alyssa Leonard, who had 12 in the game. Nine first-half turnovers by the 'Cats allowed the hosts to surge to a 7-1 lead less than 15 minutes in, and although NU would cut its deficit to two with 14:40 to play, North Carolina held on for a key early-season win.
The victory by the Tar Heels in February snapped Northwestern's four-game winning streak in the series between the two schools, as well as a run of 10 straight wins against ACC opponents by the Wildcats. Despite NU's lopsided advantage in the all-time series (10-3), the two teams head into Friday's semifinal matchup with their last four head-to-head meetings having been decided by a total of six goals.
Recent NU-UNC Meetings
2/25/2011: NU 7, UNC 6 (OT)
5/27/2011: NU 11, UNC 10
4/13/2012: NU 8, UNC 7
2/22/2013: UNC 11, NU 8
Northwestern and UNC are meeting for the fifth time in the NCAA Tournament, the third time in the semifinals (2010, 2011) and the fourth time in the last five years. (NU also notched postseason wins against the Tar Heels in the 2006 quarterfinals and the 2009 NCAA title game.) The 'Cats are looking for a repeat of 2010, when they avenged an 18-16 home regular-season defeat to the Heels by eliminating them from the semifinals with a 15-10 victory.
North Carolina is making its fourth appearance in the national semifinals in the last five years under head coach Jenny Levy, who like Kelly Amonte Hiller is a member of the 200-win club in the collegiate coaching world. The Tar Heels came into the NCAA Tournament with only three losses on its ledger: one in the season-opener to Florida and twice to ACC champion and undefeated Maryland. For the second straight game, Kelly Amonte Hiller will be coaching against one of her former players who has gone on to become an assistant coach at the Division I level -- 2010 alum and Tewaaraton Award finalist Katrina Dowd is in her first year assisting Levy in Chapel Hill after helping Syracuse reach the national championship game as an assistant to Gary Gait in 2012.
Opposing attackers all over the country have come to know what it's like to be the target of one Gabriella Flibotte's surgical stick checks, and it's usually an empty feeling. Flibotte's defensive prowess has resulted in 46 caused turnovers this season -- the third-best single-season total in school history -- and 88 for her career, making for a dynamic one-two defensive punch between Flibotte and Taylor Thornton, a former IWLCA National Defender of the Year. Flibotte's All-American senior season also has seen her tie the Northwesern school record for ground balls in a season with 58 -- matching Thornton (2012), Finch and earn MVP honors at the ALC Tournament after collecting 10 draw controls, five caused turnovers and five ground balls in wins over Penn State and Florida.
Northwestern's losses during the Kelly Amonte Hiller era have been few and far between -- only 11 since 2005, to be exact -- but NU has shown a remarkable ability to bounce back after suffering those rare defeats. Should Northwestern defeat North Carolina Friday evening, it would mark the sixth time since 2005 that Northwestern lost to an opponent during the regular season only to later avenge the defeat with a win in the ALC or NCAA Tournament. Northwestern has already accomplished the feat once this year, falling in a lopsided affair to Florida on April 20 only to respond with a convincing win over the Gators in the ALC Championship just two weeks later. The 2012 Florida Gators remain the only school to beat an Amonte Hiller-coached team twice in the same season.
Northwestern's attack has taken many forms during Kelly Amonte Hiller's tenure, but the 2013 edition is particularly unique in the manner in which it manufactures goals. The Wildcats have recorded assists on only 27.8 percent of its goals this season (74 of 267), with junior Alyssa Leonard standing as the team's only player with a double-figure assist total -- a modest 12. Just a few years ago, Northwestern graduated the NCAA's all-time assist leader in Hannah Nielsen -- who dished out 224 in four seasons -- and as recently as 2010 had four players with 10 or more helpers.
One Last Weekend
For seven senior members of Northwestern's 2013 roster, this weekend represents their final opportunity to don the purple and white for NU Lacrosse. The Class of 2013 -- Ali Cassera, Beatrice Conley, Alexa deLyra, Erin Fitzgerald, Gabriella Flibotte, Amanda Macaluso and Taylor Thornton -- has established a remarkable legacy during their time in Evanston, amassing an overall record of 81-8, a record of 40-2 at Lakeside Field, a trio of ALC championships and three NCAA championship game appearances with two titles. The group has played in a combined 450 games with 274 starts, with Thornton appearing in the starting lineup for all 89 games of her NU career.
Postseason accolades have been rolling in for the Wildcats this month, beginning with All-American Lacrosse Conference and All-West/Midwest Region laurels prior to the NCAA Tournament. On Wednesday, the Intercollegiate Women's Lacrosse Coaches Association (IWLCA) announced the 48 Division I players to earn All-America status for the 2013 campaign, including four NU representatives: first-team selections Taylor Thornton and Erin Fitzgerald, second-team honoree Gabriella Flibotte and third-team choice Bridget Bianco, one of four goalkeepers in the country to be named an All-American this season. Thornton joined an elite club with her selection, joining Kristen Kjellman as the only Wildcats to earn All-America honors all four years of their careers.