Northwestern stunned the women’s lacrosse world in 2005, when head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller guided the Wildcats to an undefeated season and an NCAA Championship in just their fourth season of play, the beginning of a run of five straight NCAA Championships and six straight title game appearances.
With Northwestern having written the blueprint for building a national powerhouse in a short period of time, it was probably just a matter of time before someone else followed it…at the Wildcats’ expense.
No. 6 Florida stunned the No. 2 Wildcats on Thursday night to clinch its first American Lacrosse Conference regular-season championship. Sophomore midfielder Kitty Cullen scored six goals to lead the Gators, scoring three during a run of five unanswered Florida tallies in the first half to make it 5-1, and then finishing her night by scoring the Gators’ last three goals of the game.
“This win is tremendous,” head coach Amanada O’Leary said after the game. “I had some great players at Yale and some great teams at Yale, but overall, this team from top to bottom is probably the most talented group I have ever worked with.”
The Gators backed up their head coach’s statement again on Sunday in Nashville, beating No. 17 Vanderbilt, 8-7, to finish off an undefeated conference season. Sophomore attacker Ashley Bruns scored a hat trick to lead the Florida offense, and goalkeeper Mikey Meagher made seven saves to preserve the victory for the Gators (Northwestern, meanwhile, fell to Johns Hopkins, the Wildcats’ first back-to-back losses since 2003).
With the winning weekend, the Gators remain unbeaten since a season-opening loss to North Carolina. They’ll play just once more in the regular season, a non-conference game at Cornell, before heading back to Nashville for the ALC tournament.
The Gators may have claimed their first regular-season title, but it’s the postseason where champions are made.
Need to Know
• A meeting of two Top 10 teams in the IWLCA Division II provided the expected fireworks on Friday, as No. 3 Lock Haven went head to head with No. 7 West Chester in a high-stakes PSAC matchup. The two teams, both unbeaten in PSAC play, battled back and forth throughout the first half, and went to the break tied at seven goals apiece. In the second half, however, the Rams scored six of the first eight goals to take a 13-9 lead, and while the Lady Eagles mounted a furious charge in the last five minutes, scoring the last three goals of the game, Lock Haven was unable to tie it up one last time, allowing West Chester to escape with a 13-12 win and first place in the PSAC. The Rams can clinch the outright title on Thursday with a win over Kutztown, while Lock Haven will face IUP on Thursday before a Saturday game against No. 4 Limestone.
• The NESCAC had its own battle of Top 10 teams on Saturday, as No. 3 Trinity traveled to Middlebury to take on the No. 8 Panthers. The Bantams and Panthers traded the lead back and forth for nearly 49 minutes, but Meghan Leonhard’s goal with 11:30 left put Trinity up for good, and her insurance goal just under two minutes later wound up providing the margin of victory in an 11-10 Bantams win. Leonhard finished with three goals for Trinity, while Hadley Duncan led all scorers with four and senior attacker Rachel Romanowsky set a personal best with six assists, including helpers on all three of Leonhard’s goals and three of Duncan’s four. The Bantams are now 11-0 on the season, with a non-conference matchup against Eastern Connecticut State and NESCAC games against No. 19 Bates and No. 17 Amherst left on the schedule before the conference tournament begins on May 1.
• The Ivy League had an action-packed weekend, with a pair of upsets and a hard-fought battle between ranked teams as part of the Ancient Eight action. No. 8 Penn got the biggest win, rallying from an early 4-1 deficit at home to claim a 10-9 victory over No. 16 Dartmouth behind three goals and an assist from sophomore attacker Meredith Cain and nine saves from junior goalkeeper Emily Leitner. The surprises, however, came from Harvard and Columbia. Crimson sophomore and Ivy League Offensive Player of the Week Jennifer VanderMeulen scored four goals and assisted on another to lead Harvard to a 9-8 upset of No. 12 Princeton, while the Lions’ Karlee Blank (the league’s Defensive Player of the Week) made 15 saves against Yale to backstop Columbia to a 10-3 victory. The win snapped a five-game Ivy losing streak for the Lions, and was the first home Ivy win in program history. Despite the win, the Lions will be unable to participate in the conference tournament, which only the top four teams qualify for, but after a wild weekend for Penn, Dartmouth, Harvard and Princeton, just about anything could happen when the conference tournament begins on May 6.
• Adelphi staged an offensive explosion on is weekend trip to New England, scoring a total of 48 goals in wins over Northeast 10 foes St. Michael’s and Franklin Pierce. Junior midfielder Claire Petersen passed the 60-assist mark for the season with seven helpers in the win over the Purple Knights, then added eight more against the Ravens to finish the weekend with six goals and 15 assists.
• No. 1 Maryland scored 33 goals last week in wins over Princeton and Virginia Tech, with the 16-8 win over the Hokies closing out an unbeaten ACC regular season for the reigning NCAA Champions. The Terrapins, who haven’t lost since April 10 of last year, had to move the game inside to Rector Field House due to inclement weather, but neither the rain nor the Hokies were able to prevent Maryland’s 25th straight win.
• The College of New Jersey appeared to be at the end of its run as the top team in the IWLCA Division III poll when No. 7 Franklin and Marshall got out to a 4-1 lead on Friday, but the No. 1 Lions battled back for a 9-5 win to improve to 14-0 on the season. The Lions’ all-time scoring leader, Ali Jaeger, was held scoreless, but assists leader Leigh Mitchell picked up the slack by scoring five goals and assisting on another.