STONY BROOK, N.Y. — Through its familiarity with success, and each other, Northwestern is never fazed on the rare occasions it has been presented with adversity.
Case in point: The first few minutes of the second half, the Wildcats on the wrong end of a three-goal surge that gave Maryland a 6-4 lead. However, when your veterans have appeared in their third or fourth NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse Championship, a small deficit with so much time remaining is no cause for panic.
“The biggest thing for us was to stay positive with each other and not get down on ourselves,” senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto said. “We were able to do that and capitalize upon that.”
Minutes later, second-seeded Northwestern (20-2) earned its way into its eighth consecutive national championship game, taming third-seeded Maryland, 9-7, in a game short on style points but truly indicative of just how resolute and resourceful the reigning dynasty in Division I women’s lacrosse truly remains.
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“I think that our girls played with a lot of heart and a lot of poise,” said Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, who became the all-time wins leader in NCAA Division I tournament history while improving to 31-2. “They didn’t get down when we got down.”
Indeed, despite going more than 20 minutes without a goal and trailing 6-4 after Maryland’s Katie Schwarzmann found the back of the cage with 27:09 remaining, no one wearing a Northwestern uniform appeared flummoxed about the possibility of not playing fourth-seeded Syracuse for the national championship under the lights Sunday night.
Even before seniors Shannon Smith (four assists) and Brianne Lomanto (7 saves) arrived, Northwestern had never lost in a national semifinal. A streak that continued through their first three seasons, where they won two national titles and lost to Maryland in 2010 – the only setback on the sport’s biggest stage since starting their dynasty in 2004.
“For me personally, we’ve been in that position so many times this year,” said Smith, the school’s all-time leading scorer. “We knew really it was going to come down to getting the draw control,. We were very patient, looking for the open cutters. Every person on the offensive end did a phenomenal job with cutting, keeping their defenders busy and allowing our offense to move. … Me personally, I wasn’t rattled at all.”
As Smith spoke, junior defender and Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Taylor Thornton shook her head affirmatively. “I never once felt rattled by it because, like Shannon said, we’ve been there so many times,” Thornton said. “I think that’s just a testament to how resilient this team is.”
A few minutes after Schwarzmann’s score staked Maryland to its biggest lead, Northwestern began a surge of four unprecedented goals – all from different players. Kara Mupo and Amanda Macaluso scored 49 seconds apart to pull the Wildcats even, before another senior, Lacey Vigmostad, put the reigning national champs ahead to stay, 7-6, with 18:01 left.
From there, Thornton – who’s thrived in an attacking role this season – sandwiched two scores around another Schwarzmann tally, the last one coming with 1:26 as the Wildcats milked the clock before putting an exclamation point on their latest semifinal victory.
A victory that put Northwestern in position to further extend its dynasty, despite some second-half adversity, Sunday night against a Syracuse squad that overcame a seven-goal deficit to defeat top-seeded Florida in the second-biggest comeback in NCAA tournament history.
“I couldn’t be more excited to be in another championship game,” Amonte Hiller said.