Wildcats seek 6th straight championship

TOWSON, Md. -- Northwestern's lacrosse dynasty survived another challenge. Now, the Wildcats have only one more hurdle to claim their sixth consecutive NCAA women's title.

Northwestern avenged its only loss of the season by defeating North Carolina 15-10 on Friday night. The second-seeded Wildcats (20-1) will face top-seed Maryland (21-1) on Sunday in the national championship game.

The Terrapins, who advanced with a 14-5 win over Syracuse earlier Friday night, will be seeking their 10th NCAA title and first since 2001.

The two semifinal games drew a crowd of 8,762, the largest to watch a women's lacrosse game in United States history.

The UNC-Northwestern game was a rematch of last year's championship, won 21-7 by the Wildcats. Last month, however, the Tar Heels (17-3) beat Northwestern in an 18-16 shootout.

After a 4-4 first half, the second half turned into a back-and-forth affair not unlike a basketball game. There was plenty of 1-on-1 action, which led to an astounding 14 straight unassisted goals.

The pace turned out to favor the five-time defending champions.

"It was very exciting to be part of an intense game like that," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "I was proud of the way my girls played, the focus that they brought, the patience, and how they were able to convert and stay calm in the pressure situations."

Northwestern held leads of 9-6 and 10-7 before the Tar Heels closed to 10-9 with 15:49 left. The defending champs then scored four straight goals to pull away.

Playing with the lead, the Wildcats played keep-away toward the end, then capitalized when UNC got impatient.

"They were taking their time on offense, and that really tired out our defense," Tar Heels coach Jenny Levy said. "Unfortunately, our rules allow stalling of the ball. Once we had to start to extend out, it did open up the lead for Northwestern."

Danielle Spencer and Katrina Dowd each scored three goals for the Wildcats, who never trailed after tying the score at 1.

In the first game, Maryland led 7-1 shortly before halftime and cruised to the finish against the unseeded Orange (15-7). After
Syracuse closed to 8-5, the Terps sealed the victory with a four-goal blitz.

A year ago, the Terrapins lost to North Carolina in the semifinal round -- in part because they were looking forward to a matchup against Northwestern in the title game.

For that reason, it really didn't matter to Maryland who the competition was Friday night.

"We just really wanted to focus on us, fighting and battling and playing the best lacrosse we have this season," said Caitlyn McFadden, who scored four goals. "We really learned from last year. We were so excited to play tonight."

Karri Ellen Johnson had two goals and three assists for Maryland, now 10-0 against the Orange in a series that began in 1998. The teams last met in the 2009 quarterfinal round.

Syracuse's five goals tied a season low, and the 14 allowed were the most in a game since March 24 against Dartmouth.

"Give all the credit to their offense and defense," Syracuse senior Halley Quillinan said of the Terrapins. "They played a phenomenal game today."

Maryland's Laura Merrifield opened the scoring with just over seven minutes gone, and Katie Schwarzmann made it 2-0 midway through the first half following a poor clearing pass from behind the net by Syracuse goaltender Liz Hogan.

After Quillinan got the Orange on the board, Merrifield scored from a free position, sparking a run of five straight Maryland goals.

There would be no comeback for the Orange.

"We knew they were a really good team, that they were super athletic and we were going to have to play a great game," Syracuse coach Gary Gait said. "Unfortunately, it didn't happen for us today."

Gait said he would shave the gray beard he grew during the postseason.

"It's got to come off. It's driving me crazy," he said. "I would have liked to have it two more days, but oh well."