May 29, 2011

Terps, Wildcats Reverse Roles in Rematch

by Clare Lochary | LaxMagazine.com


Can Maryland contain Shannon Smith the way it did Katrina Dowd in last year's NCAA championship game? "The biggest thing for us is to control our emotions, and not let what happen to us last year take over," said Smith, who will likely see a healthy dose of defense from Brittany Poist, Katie Gallagher and Iliana Sanza.

© John Mecionis

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Sequels are hardly ever as good as the original. But Northwestern vs. Maryland II: The Reckoning has the potential to become a classic.

The No. 2-seeded Wildcats and No. 1-seeded Maryland will meet in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship for the second year in a row Sunday at 4 p.m. at LaValle Stadium at Stony Brook University. (TV: Big Ten Nework, select Comcast Sports networks; Webcast: NCAA.com)

It's a rematch of last year's title game, which Maryland won, 13-11, ending Northwestern's five-year run as national champion and earning the Terps their first title since 2001.

This year, it's the same teams with the same seeds playing with the same intensity, but now the Terps are defending the title, and the Wildcats are trying to knock off the current champs. Both teams have the talent to win; the trophy will go home with the squad that best combines strategy and execution.

How They Got Here

Maryland rolled Navy and Princeton in its first two tournament games, and overcame Duke, 14-8, in the semifinal after a slow start. The Terps have outscored their tournament opponents 48-20 so far. Maryland's championship game berth is the 20th in program history, an NCAA best.

Northwestern squeaked past Boston College, 11-8, in the first round and thumped Albany, 18-4, in the quarterfinals. In the semifinals, the Wildcats gritted out an 11-10 win against North Carolina, thanks to Shannon Smith's game-winner, to advance to their seventh consecutive championship game.

Series History

The Terps lead the series 7-4, but eight of those games were played before 1991, when Northwestern discontinued its varsity program. Wildcats head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller is 2-1 against her alma mater since the program's revival.

Last Time

Maryland rallied from a 6-0 deficit to tie the game 8 at halftime and come back for a 13-11 win in last year's title game at Johnny Unitas Stadium at Towson University. Sarah Mollison and Katie Schwarzmann each had a hat trick in the Terps' win; Shannon Smith led the Wildcats with three goals.

Key Stat

Draw controls. Both teams can score at will; it's a matter of who gets the ball first. Northwestern has an edge here – the Wildcats have won 62.7 percent of their draw controls this season to Maryland's 54 percent. The Terps do better when the ball's on the ground. "We like when it gets to be a 50-50 ball and our kids are going to compete and fight hard for it, and we're going to come up with them," said head coach Cathy Reese. So the Wildcats may keep it in the air, where Alex Frank (66 DCs) and Alyssa Leonard (86 DCs) can nab it.

Key Matchup

Maryland defense vs. Shannon Smith. Defender Brittany Poist and midfielder Caitlyn McFadden held IWCLA Attacker of the Year Katrina Dowd to a single assist in the 2010 championship game, and it was a huge difference-maker. With McFadden graduated, Poist will coordinate with Katie Gallagher and Iliana Sanza to neutralize Smith, a Tewaaraton finalist and the Wildcats' emotional leader. Smith has scored 14 of her team-leading 82 goals in the postseason. Just taking her shot away won't be enough, though, since Smith can feed as well as she can shoot. She has 42 assists this season; Erin Fitzgerald and Brooke Mathews are tied for No. 2 on the Wildcats' list with seven assists each.

X Factor

Goalies. Maryland's Brittany Dipper and Northwestern's Brianne "Breezy" LoManto had relatively quiet performances when these teams last met -- Dipper had seven saves and LoManto had six. If one of them can come up with a big game this time around, it will be a huge advantage.

Dipper is currently leads the nation in both save percentage (.527) and goals against average (6.41). She had only four saves in the semifinal, but it was really all the Terps needed. Dipper showed some flash in the quarterfinal with a career-high 15 save performance against Princeton.

LoManto's save percentage is .442 on the season and her goals against average is 8.36. She had seven saves against North Carolina, and every one of them was worthy of the highlight reel. It was exactly the kind of game a keeper would want as a confidence booster before facing Maryland, the best offense in the nation (15.05 goals per game).

What Northwestern Needs to Do to Win

Control the pace of the game. Maryland has survived a handful of slow-down games this season, but it prefers to run. The Wildcats can play up- or down-tempo, so they'd be well-advised to make it a chess match. Part of that effort will be to keep an even keel in this emotionally charged rematch with the Terps.

"The biggest thing for us is to control our emotions, and not let what happen to us last year take over," Smith said. "We have to stay focused out there on the field on Sunday."

What Maryland Needs to Do to Win

Squelch Smith without giving up too much to the rest of the Northwestern attack, and keep its own Tewaaraton finalists, Mollison and Schwarzmann, hot. Mollison has scored four goals in each of the Terps' postseason games; Schwarzmann has four in eac of the last two.

Notes and Numbers

Sunday's game is the first championship rematch in Division I women's lacrosse since 2003 and 2004, when Virginia and Princeton met two years in a row. Princeton won 8-7 in overtime in 2003 and Virginia won 10-4 in 2004... With the semifinal win over North Carolina, Northwestern's Amonte Hiller is now 27-2 in the NCAA postseason. Her 93.1-percent winning mark is the best in NCAA Division I women's lacrosse history... Northwestern's seven straight championship berths is second in NCAA history to Maryland, which went to eight championship games between 1994 and 2001. The Terps won the last seven of those games.


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