May 29, 2010

By Todd Karpovich
Special to NCAA.com

TOWSON, Md. - Earlier this season, third-seeded North Carolina ended No. 2 Northwestern's 41- game winning streak.

In Friday night's rematch in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinals, Northwestern made sure the Tar Heels did not end its reign as the five-time national champions. The Wildcats had too much firepower and went on a late run for a 15-10 victory before an announced 8,762 at Towson University - believed the largest crowd ever to watch a women's lacrosse game in the U.S.

Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller and Maryland coach Cathy Reese were teammates at Maryland and will play each other Sunday for the national championship.

"I'm very excited to have an opportunity to play in a championship game," Amonte Hiller said. "I'm very excited to have been part of an intense game like that. I'm just proud of the way my girls played...and stayed calm in pressure situations. We made a change after we lost to them. We made a change in the way we prepared and the way we focused."

Danielle Spencer, Katrina Dowd and Erin Fitzgerald each had three goals for Northwestern (20-1). Laura Zimmerman scored three goals and Corey Donohoe added two for North Carolina. Donohoe also broke the single-season points record for North Carolina with 77.

With the game tied at 4 at the break, the Wildcats' offense came out firing in the second half. Shannon Smith and Alexandra Frank scored 61 seconds apart for a 6-4 lead, forcing North Carolina to call a timeout with 28:21 left in the game.

The Tar Heels then pulled within one on Zimmerman's third goal. After Northwestern's Fitzgerald and UNC's Megan Bosica traded goals, Spencer scored twice in less than two minutes to give the Wildcats a 9-6 lead with 18:13 remaining in the game, despite tight marking from North Carolina defender Kristen Karr.

"Kristen Carr is an incredible defender," Spencer said. "She's the best defender I face. She really gave me a tough time that first game. As a team, we were not all there. We kind of expected to win."

The Tar Heels (17-3) kept pressing and Carr scored an unassisted goal to cut the margin to 9-7 with 17:31 left. Each time North Carolina scored, however, Northwestern had an answer. Donohoe scored twice in less than a minute to pull UNC within 10-9, but Spencer responded with 12:31 remaining. After Frank and Brooke Matthews scored for 13-9, the Wildcats dictated play for the final seven minutes.

Northwestern was able to dominate the draw, controlling 17 of 26, including seven by Spencer.

"Obviously, I'm very disappointed," North Carolina coach Jenny Levy said. "It's very difficult to score goals when someone like Danielle Spencer is there dominating draws. I thought that was the difference in the game."

Each team played cautiously throughout the first half and neither created many chances until the final seconds ticked down. North Carolina's Bosica tied the game at three with 27 seconds left in the half. Dowd gave the Wildcats back the lead 10 seconds later. Not to be undone, Zimmerman tied the game again with just as the horn sounded for halftime.

Northwestern outshot the Tar Heels, 15-9, and won the ground ball battle, 12-10, but they could distance themselves on the scoreboard because of the Tar Heels' pesky defense. The Wildcats, however, found the way in the second half.

Maryland and Northwestern are the two most prolific teams in women's lacrosse. In the quarterfinals last week against Duke, the Wildcats broke Maryland's record of 21 consecutive wins in the NCAA tournament. On Sunday, Northwestern will take another step toward breaking Maryland's record of nine national titles.

"I think it's going to be a great game," Bosica said about the national championship. "Both teams were our toughest competition this year. I can't say who I think will win."