April 26, 2009

EVANSTON, Ill. - The bigger the game, the bigger senior Hannah Nielsen (Adelaide, Australia/Brighton Secondary) seems to play. Nielsen tallied four goals and added three assists, with junior Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) adding a hat trick as top-ranked Northwestern defeated third-ranked Penn 11-9 at Lakeside Field.

"We've developed quite a rivalry with Penn over r the past few years," said Nielsen. "They know how to play us, and we know how to play them, and we've had some great games in the last couple of years. This one tonight was no different, and it feels great to get the win."

The Wildcats finish out the regular season at a perfect 17-0, extending their winning streak to 23 games. NU also extended its home winning streak to 52 games, and improved to 6-2 all-time against the Quakers (13-1).

But it was a game that many questioned would even be played. Heavy rains and constant lightning in the Evanston area forced the game to be delayed an hour, and even when the teams finally took to the field for warm-ups, there was a drizzle along with patches of standing water on the field.

The skies quickly cleared up as Northwestern came out of the gates quickly, using a controlled, precision offense to jump out to an early 3-0 lead with 20:41 remaining in the first half. Dowd netted the first goal of the game, and the 100th of her career less than two minutes in, with junior Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) and freshman Alexandra Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) adding goals as well.

But the Quakers responded in a big way, netting five unanswered goals over a 10-minute span to take a 5-3 lead over the Wildcats. Kaitlyn Lombardo and Emma Spiro each netted a pair during the run, as Penn dominated the time of possession during the stretch.

Nielsen brought the `Cats within one, one-timing a perfect pass from freshman Shannon Smith (West Babylon, N.Y./West Babylon) past Penn goalkeeper Emily Szelest with 6:31 to go in the half. Penn extended the lead back to two with just under four minutes remaining in the half.

But the Nielsen-Smith connection wasn't finished yet, as this time Nielsen found Smith cutting to the front of the net with 14 seconds remaining in the half to cut the lead to 6-5, which fittingly was the 200th career assist of Nielsen's career. It marked the first time all season NU had trailed at intermission, but the late goal seemed to spark confidence into the Wildcats - similarly to what a late goal did for Penn in last year's regular season finale.

Nielsen opened up the second half with her second of the game off a feed from sophomore Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School) to knot the game at six with 25:29 remaining, and then Spencer's goal at 22:05 gave NU its first lead since midway through the opening half.

The Quakers' Ali DeLuca scored her second of the game with 19:44 left to tie the game at seven, but that is as close as Penn would get as Nielsen took over the show. Cutting through the crease, she was tripped up but still managed to fire a shot past Szelest to give NU the lead for good at 17:09, then followed it up with another at 13:06.

What Nielsen had started, Dowd finished, putting a wrap-around shot past Szelest, then one-timing a Nielsen pass into the back of the net to put Northwestern on top 11-7 with 7:31 remaining. Penn would try a comeback, netting two late goals, but it was too little too late as Northwestern avenges last season's regular season loss in Philadelphia.

Nielsen's seven points on the night continues to add to her Wildcat legacy, giving the fans at Lakeside a show on the night where the 10 NU seniors were honored prior to the game. She now has 52 goals 60 assists on the year for a nation's best 112 points. Spencer also joined the 50-goal club with her pair on the night, sitting at 51 on the year.

Once again, shot selection and draw controls determined the outcome of the game. Penn out shot Northwestern 10-6 in the opening half, only to see the Wildcats respond with a 12-5 shot advantage in the second. And after winning only five of the 12 first half draws, NU won seven of 10 in the second half to help put the game away.

Up next for Northwestern is a trip to University Park, Pa., to compete in the 2009 American Lacrosse Conference Championship. The Wildcats are the number one seed, and will play the winner of the quarterfinal game between Vanderbilt and Johns Hopkins at 2 p.m. Friday, May 1. Host Penn State and Ohio State square off in the second semifinal game, with the two semifinal winners meeting in the championship at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 2.