Sept. 1, 2009

By Dave Carey
Special to

TOWSON, Md. – For the fifth straight year, the NCAA Division I Women’s Lacrosse season ended the same way -- with Northwestern hoisting the championship trophy.

The Wildcats put the finishing touches on a perfect 23-0 season as they cruised to a 21-7 victory over North Carolina on Sunday in front of an NCAA Championship Game record crowd of 6,515 fans at Towson’s Johnny Unitas® Stadium, becoming just the ninth team to complete a title run with an undefeated record.

“At the beginning of the year, we joked it was the only thing we hadn’t accomplished,” said Northwestern senior attacker and reigning National Player of the Year Hannah Nielsen of an undefeated season. “It was a great night for Northwestern lacrosse.”

 The Wildcats, whose five straight titles trail only Maryland's run of seven straight championships from 1995-2001, jumped out to a 2-0 lead less than three minutes into the game on goals from senior attacker Hilary Bowen and senior midfielder Mary Kate Casey. The Tar Heels (16-5), making their first championship game appearance, responded with a free position goal from junior midfielder Megan Bosica when she bounced the ball into the net just below the crossbar at the 23:47 mark.

Northwestern then answered with two more scores – from junior attacker Danielle Spencer and sophomore midfielder Brooke Matthews – before a goal from North Carolina sophomore attacker Corey Donohoe, who scored on a free position shot to make it a 4-2 game with 19:24 remaining in the first half.

But that’s the closest the Tar Heels would get.

For the remainder of the half, the Wildcats would put together the most dominant stretch of play in title game history, scoring 11 of the next 12 goals to take a convincing, 15-3 lead into the intermission.

“The offense was firing and we were getting looks from lots of people,” Nielsen said. “Everyone was putting their shots away.”

The onslaught began when junior attacker Katrina Dowd and Bowen scored 47 seconds apart to extend the lead to 6-2 with 14:03 left in the half. Those tallies were followed by scores from senior attacker Meghan Plunkett, senior midfielder Meredith Frank, Bowen, Spencer and two more each from Dowd and Matthews.

North Carolina, however, appeared to stem the tide with 33.5 seconds left in the half on a free position score from junior midfielder Jenn Russell. But, Northwestern struck one more time before the halftime horn – a goal from Matthews on an assist from Nielsen – to take a 12-goal lead into the break.

“It got to the point where we just wanted to keep our heads up and keep going at it,” North Carolina senior defender Amber Falcone said. “It was a struggle today.”

It didn’t get any easier for the Tar Heels to start the second half, as the Wildcats scored the first four goals of the period – two from Spencer, and one each from Bowen and Dowd – to take a 19-3 lead with 22:58 remaining and take all of the remaining drama out of the game.

The Wildcats set numerous title game records en route to their fifth-straight crown, including most goals (21), most goals in a half (15) and largest margin of victory (14). Northwestern also finished the season by setting a new standard for goals in a season with 407 (previously 380), goals in a postseason with 73 (previously 64) and points in a season with 570 (previously 541).

Individually, Nielsen set a new record for assists in a championship round game with six (previously five), assists in a single postseason with 16 (previously 15) and assists in a tournament career with 35 (previously 34). Dowd finished the postseason with a record 22 goals, smashing Bowen’s mark of 17 set last spring. Dowd (four goals and two assists) also was named the championship’s Most Outstanding Player, an honor Bowen won in each of the past two years. 

“Next year, it’s going to be a new team,” Spencer said. “Next year is going to be just as strong.”