May 4, 2012

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Northwestern Marches Into ALC Final

from press release

GAINESVILLE, Fla. -- No. 1-ranked Northwestern took the first step toward winning a sixth consecutive American Lacrosse Conference Tournament Friday evening, defeating sixth-seeded Johns Hopkins, 13-9, in a semifinal matchup at Donald R. Dizney Stadium in Gainesville. Northwestern received a game-high four goals from senior Shannon Smith and two each from juniors Erin Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton on offense, while the Wildcat defense caused 10 turnovers on the other end.

Northwestern trailed 3-1 in the early going before mounting a 5-0 run to seize control of the game. NU (17-1) led by as many as six over the course of the afternoon en route to its 11th consecutive ALC Tournament win.

As it did a year ago, NU will face top-seeded Florida in Saturday's championship game (11:30 a.m. CT) after the Gators escaped an upset bid and defeated Ohio State, 5-4, in the second semifinal game.

"We are very excited to be able to have the opportunity to play in the championship game tomorrow, to have that opportunity is amazing," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller after the win. "I think Hopkins is a great team and they played a great game today. The turnaround is quick so you have to prepare for both teams and be ready for whoever you end up facing."

Smith's four-goal day raised her career total to 248, leaving her just two shy of Kristen Kjellman's (2004-07) school record of 250 career goals. She also stands one point away of matching Kjellman for second on Northwestern's all-time points list; Smith currently boasts 348 for her career.

"I think we really focused on everyone when they touched the ball to be a threat and I think we did a good job with that from the attack to the middies," Smith said. "It's always exciting to see our defenders cause turnovers for us. It allows us to create a lot of fast breaks on the attack and really move the ball up the field. All of our defenders have great stick skills and tremendous speed so they get the ball up there really quickly in transition and help jump start our offense for us.

Northwestern opened the game's scoring off a dodge by Erin Fitzgerald just over one minute into the game, but JHU quickly countered with a fast break on the ensuing draw control. The Blue Jays maintained possession over the next few minutes and seized a 3-1 lead nearly five minutes into the contest when Candace Rossi found the back of the net for the second time.

The top-ranked Wildcats found their form, however, responding to score the next five goals of the game. Thornton -- the ALC Player of the Year -- and Fitzgerald each earned hard-fought 8-meter attempts and converted both within 50 seconds to draw NU level. Gabriella Flibotte wove her way through the Blue Jays defense for the go-ahead goal and Kat DeRonda made it 5-3 when she shook her defender and buried a shot at the 21:31 mark of the first half.

Both teams were held off the scoreboard for nearly 14 minutes of game action after that as NU's Brianne LoManto and Hopkins' Cosette Larash came up with saves on either end. Shannon Smith ended the drought at the 7:29 mark, taking a pass from Fitzgerald behind the cage and coming hard off the crease for her 57th goal of the season.

After a Hopkins goal shortly thereafter, Northwestern received a big boost from defender and Orlando native Christy Turner, who caused a turnover near NU's goal and, after absorbing a foul, went coast to coast to score her second of the season and make it 7-4 Wildcats. NU then worked the clock on offense and brought it to under a minute to play when Smith cut laterally across the fan and buried her shot on goal with 13 seconds showing on the scoreboard.

But there was still enough time for Hopkins to create a one-on-one chance in front of Northwestern's goal, where LoManto was there to smother a low shot from point-blank range and send the 'Cats into the locker rooms with momentum on their side.

After the break, Flibotte caused another Hopkins turnover and minutes later it led to an 8-meter goal by Ali Cassera, setting the count at 9-4 Wildcats. Senior and second-team All-ALC selection Lacey Vigmostad raised the NU lead to six on a free position goal of her own, her 10th tally of the season.

Just as they did in the regular season matchup, however, Hopkins refused to go away, scoring consecutive goals within 28 seconds of each other to pull within four, 10-6. Smith had the answer three minutes later, coming around the crease to complete her hat trick with 10:06 to play.

The two teams traded goals over the next five minutes, with Smith's fourth goal coming after a drawn-out Blue Jays defense left a wide-open lane to the cage with 5:22 remaining. Thornton would add Northwestern's final tally of the day with 1:38 on the clock, raising her season total to 24.

Defensively, Vigmostad led the way for NU with three caused turnovers, two ground balls and two draw controls while fellow senior Alex Frank contributed three ground balls, two draw control wins and two caused turnovers. LoManto finished with four saves in the cage for the Wildcats.


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