The Final Four is far from foreign for the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team, but you couldn’t tell from the ‘Cats (19-2) demeanor on Saturday night after beating the No. 7 Duke Blue Devils (12-7) 11-7 in the NCAA women’s lacrosse tournament quarterfinals at Lakeside Field.
“It’s something that never gets old, something we don’t take for granted,” said senior goalkeeper Brianne LoManto. With the win, the Wildcats clinched their eighth consecutive trip to the NCAA semifinals.
It was LoManto’s play between the pipes that kept the Wildcats in the game after a slow start and added fuel to the offensive fire that featured a four-goal effort from junior Erin Fitzgerald and a hat trick from senior Shannon Smith.
“They’re huge,” said Fitzgerald of LoManto’s eight saves. “Whenever she makes a save, we really get pumped up on the attacking end and they just get us so excited.”
“I think our defenders love it when Breezy comes up those big saves,” Smith added, “because you see them breaking out right away and we usually get some good fast breaks off of them, too, and that allows us to push our offense.”
Things started slow for the Wildcats on Saturday, who didn’t get one shot on goal until Fitzgerald’s goal on a free position shot 19:02 into the game. By then, the Blue Devils already had a 2-0 lead after Amanda Jones and Makenzie Hommel slipped past the high-pressure Wildcat defense and scored at the 27:29 and 24:14 marks, respectively.
Shannon Smith scored 34 seconds later to tie both the score and Northwestern great Kristen Kjellman’s record for most goals scored in a career.
After two more Blue Devil goals, Northwestern went on a 5-0 run that started at the 14:41 mark, featuring goals from Tewaarton Trophy finalist Taylor Thornton, sophomore Amanda Macaluso, two more from Fitzgerald and Smith’s record breaker — which came eight minutes into the second half to make the score 7-4 Northwestern.
After Duke’s Taylor Trimble brought the game within two goals, another 4-0 run from the Wildcats featuring goals from sophomore Alyssa Leonard, senior Lacey Vigmostad, Fitzgerald and Smith put the dagger in Duke’s season and clinched another Final Four berth for the ‘Cats.
252 – Career goals for Shannon Smith, eclipsing Kristen Kjellman’s (Comm. ’07) record of 250. While Smith called standing alone at the top of the Wildcat scoring list “a huge honor,” she quickly shared credit for her success.
“I wouldn’t have any of those goals if it wasn’t for my teammates,” she said. “They’re the ones cutting and keeping their defenders busy, allowing me to take my girl one on one or pass me the ball.”
16 – Draw controls won by Alyssa Leonard in two games: Saturday’s defeat of Duke and last week’s 12-7 victory over Notre Dame. The importance of draw controls has been a major point of focus for the Wildcats since their loss to Florida in the American Lacrosse Conference championship and Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller lauded Leonard for doing a “phenomenal job” winning the ball for the Wildcats.
“It’s just like a save from Breezy,” said Amonte Hiller after the game. “It can give you a boost emotionally, you have control of possession, and do the things we want to do offensively.”
6 – Different Wildcats to score in Saturday’s win.
"Since we lost to Florida in the [ALC Championship], we have been reevaluating ourselves," Coach Amonte Hiller said. "We have been thinking creatively to maximize our talent and…shifting people around has given us a boost. At this time of year, it is important for your top scorers (Smith with 64 goals and Fitzgerald with 43) to produce but it's also important for role players to come up big."
What comes next:
Northwestern will take on the No. 3 Maryland Terrapins — Coach Amonte Hiller’s alma mater — at Stony Brook University in New York on May 25. The Wildcats are 5-7 all-time against the Terps, dating back to Northwestern’s first incarnation as a varsity team in the ‘80s and ‘90s.
During the Amonte Hiller era, Northwestern is 3-1 against Maryland and they’ve met in the last two NCAA Championship games. Maryland beat the ‘Cats in 2010 by a score of 13-11, but Northwestern won last year 8-7 to reclaim the national title – its sixth in seven years.