May 24, 2009

Box Score

Courtesy of Northwestern Athletics

TOWSON, Md. - The Northwestern class of 2009 had pretty much done it all during their careers in Evanston. They had won three national championships, posting an 84-3 overall record in the process, and established themselves as one of the top classes in the history in the sport. But the one thing they hadn't done was go undefeated in a season.

Check one final thing off their "to-do" list. Northwestern capped a perfect 2009 season by routing third-ranked North Carolina 21-7 to capture its fifth-straight national championship, finishing the year 23-0.

"Before the season, we were joking that the only thing we had not done was go undefeated," said senior Hannah Nielsen (Adelaide, Australia/Brighton Secondary). "I am so proud of my teammates for doing this. We should be so proud of each other."

"This one feels so special to me," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "Every championship has been special in different ways. We had to overcome a lot of adversity to get here, so that makes it very satisfying."

Northwestern continued to etch its place as one of the top program's in the history of the sport, becoming just the second team to win five consecutive national titles. They are now just two shy of Maryland's seven-straight from 1995-2001, and the victory over the Tar Heels (16-5) was head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's 20th consecutive tournament victory.

After lighting up the tournament for the past month, junior Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) continued to earn the title of "Miss May," netting four goals and adding a pair of assists en route to being named the Championship MVP. She finished with 22 goals and a pair of assists, shattering the previous goal record of 17.

But the player who captured that title the previous two seasons showed why she may have the biggest heart in the nation. A month and a half after tearing her left ACL, senior Hilary Bowen (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) scored a game-best five goals, connecting on all five shots she took on net and was named to the all-tournament team. She finished the year with 55 goals, capping her illustrious career with 219 goals and 299 points -- both third-best in program history.

"This was an amazing performance, and I never thought I'd be a part of it when I got injured," said Bowen. "Honestly, if it wasn't for the encouragement of my friends, my family, my coaches and my teammates, it never would have happened. They kept pushing me to come back and I'm so happy that I did."

Senior Hannah Nielsen (Adelaide, Australia/Brighton Secondary) all but locked up her second-consecutive Tewaaraton Trophy, dishing out six assists to finish with 83 on the year and 224 in her career. She closed out her four years in Evanston as the Wildcats' all-time leader in both points (398) and assists, and walks into the sunset with the Division I single-game (10), single-season (83) and career (224) assist records.

As it did in the semifinal against Penn, Northwestern pounced out to a quick start. Senior Hilary Bowen (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) cutting through a trio of Tar Heel defenders and fired a shot past Logan Ripley to give the `Cats a 1-0 lead less than a minute in. Senior Mary Kate Casey (Chicago, Ill./Loyola Academy) then converted a free position goal at 27:08 to push the lead to 2-0.

North Carolina answered with a free position goal by Megan Bosica at 23:47, only to have junior Danielle Spencer (Rochester, N.Y./Brighton) respond by rocketing a shot past Ripley three minutes later to push NU's advantage back to two at 3-1.

Spencer won the ensuing draw and flipped it to sophomore Brooke Matthews (Baltimore, Md./Friends School) who was off to the races. Matthews, the fastest player on the Wildcats, needed just 15 seconds to put the `Cats up by three at 4-1.

After a Tar Heel free position goal by Corey Donohoe, the Wildcats responded in a big way, netting a pair of goals in less than a minute. Junior Katrina Dowd (Yorktown Heights, N.Y./Yorktown) beat Ripley for her 19th of the tournament, followed by Bowen's second of the afternoon 47 seconds later. Spencer then fired a tough angled shot that just found the corner of the net, putting the Wildcats up five at 7-2 with 11:30 remaining in the opening half.

Bowen then continued to add to her amazing comeback, beating a Tar Heel defender and ripping a shot past Ripley for her third of the afternoon, giving NU an 8-2 lead with eight minutes remaining in the opening half, and the rout was on.

Northwestern continued to pour it on, scoring nine consecutive goals before the dust settled to take a 14-2 lead with just over a minute to play in the opening half. Matthews and Dowd would each add a pair with seniors Meghan Plunkett (Towson, Md./Maryvale Prep) and Meredith Frank (Westwood, Mass./Westwood) also adding to the total, giving NU a 14-3 lead at intermission.

The second half was no different, as Northwestern found the back of the net four more times to take a 19-3 lead with 22:58 to go before sophomore Samantha Santulli (Hinsdale, Ill./Hinsdale Central) tallied the final goal of the season with 6:56 to play. North Carolina played hard to the end, outscoring the Wildcats 4-2 down the stretch, but it wouldn't matter.

In a fitting tribute, Amonte Hiller played the final minutes of the game with all 10 Wildcat seniors on the field before subbing in the younger class to close out the contest. With the final seconds ticking down, the chant of "undefeated" grew louder and louder from the Northwestern faithful as the `Cats stormed the field in what has become an annual tradition, joined promptly in the celebration by Jaclyn Murphy who has now been a part of all five NU championships.

Along with Dowd, Bowen and Nielsen, Spencer and Frank received all-tournament honors after finishing with four goals and an assist and a pair of goals, respectively.

Senior goalkeeper Morgan Lathrop (Briarcliff, N.Y./The Hackley School), who has been as essential during the run for the Wildcats as anyone, closed out her storied career with five saves on the day, including stopping the final shot of her career with just over a minute left to go. Lathrop finishes as Northwestern's all-time saves leader with 553.

In a game that was never in question from the opening minutes, Northwestern connected on an amazing 21 of 27 shots while holding the Tar Heels to just 14 on the day. The 21 goals scored by the Wildcats is a championship game record, as was the 14-goal margin of victory.

While each of the championships run has been and unique and special to Amonte Hiller, this one may have been the most satisfying. On top of finishing the year undefeated with a senior class that will go down as arguably one of the best in the history of the sport, the Wildcats had to deal not only with the loss of Bowen for the second half of the season, but also the loss of Amonte Hiller's father Lewis early in the year. Northwestern dedicated this year to him, making the result all that more sweet.

"We dedicated this win and this championship undefeated season to Kelly's dad, Lewis Amonte," said Spencer. "None of this would have been possible without the inspiration that he gave her. He inspired her, and in turn that inspired all of us. None of the hard work we put in this season would have been possible without his influence."

Since Northwestern began its championship run in 2005, the Wildcats have posted an incredible 106-3 record during that span. NU turns its attention to 2010 with a huge amount of momentum on its side, as it will take a 29-game winning streak, a 54-game home winning streak and 20 consecutive tournament victories into next season.

But this night was all about the 2009 class, who became the second Wildcat team to end the season with an umblemished record. There is no doubt about the dynasty that exists in Evanston, and this night did nothing but add to that mystique.

"Every team has been a special team to me," said Amonte Hiller. "Every season has been special. Each group has been a very important part of the history of our program and they will always have a special place in my memory."

Northwestern will bring yet another championship trophy back to Evanston Monday morning and look forward to celebrating this fifth championship with their fans. The Wildcats will be arriving back on the steps of Patten Gym on the corner of Sheridan and Lincoln at approximately 9 a.m. Monday morning.