With the No. 4 Northwestern women’s lacrosse team, there aren’t many things that seem impossible. If anything, it may have seemed as though it was impossible for them to get past the Florida Gators.
First there was the 14-7 defeat in last year’s ALC Championship game. Then there was the 22-4 drubbing on April 20 this year, the worst loss in team history.
But then, today: a stellar defensive effort; an impressive offensive display; a masterful coaching job; and an 8-3 victory over No. 2 Florida in the ALC Championship game.
“The last time we played them was humbling,” midfielder Alyssa Leonard said. “It made us realize that you can’t come out and just expect it happen, you have to will it to happen. I think we did just that.”
Leonard did her part by winning seven draw controls, setting the NU single-season record with 112 on the year. Overall, NU won 10 of 13 draw controls.
“We knew that (draws were) going to be an important part of the game,” Leonard said. “Possession was a big part as well so we knew we had to do whatever it was going to take to get every ball that was in the air. Credit to my teammates, they were all either boxing out or hitting the ground, taking hits, really sacrificing their bodies to do whatever we could to come up with the ball.”
From the beginning, the Wildcats dominated possession with Leonard winning the opening draw control. NU (17-2) turned the possession into a goal from attacker Kelly Rich just over two minutes into the game.
Florida (17-2) tied it up with a goal off a free position shot then turned it into a 2-1 lead with a crease shot two minutes later.
Then, NU’s defense took over. Florida scored only one goal in the remaining 51 minutes of game time. Florida’s two leading scorers, Kitty Cullen—the ALC Offensive Player of the Year—and Shannon Gilroy, were held scoreless all game thanks to lockdown defense from senior Gabriella Flibotte and junior Kerri Harrington. The entire defensive unit stepped up, holding Florida to its lowest offensive output of the season with three goals, down from their average of 15 per game.
“We were able to dictate the tempo by our team defense,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “They just really came together and played good team defense. We talked about that a lot. It wasn’t just one individual, it was everyone backing each other up.”
Meanwhile, the Cats kept up the offensive pressure, led by junior Kat DeRonda who scored three goals on Sunday. The midfielder has seven goals in the last four games after only three the rest of the season.
“Kat’s a fearless player,” Amonte Hiller said. “She played smart, she took her opportunities when she had them and she buried her shots. She’s a fantastic player and (is) coming on at the right time for us.”
NU held a slight 3-2 advantage after half but quickly extended that with a goal off a free position shot from DeRonda. Junior Kate Macdonald added one a few minutes later.
Florida scored its lone second half goal with 19 minutes left in the game, cutting the NU lead to two. However, goals from DeRonda, Leonard and Rich erased any hopes of a Florida comeback.
NU was seeded No. 2 overall in the NCAA Tournament, meaning the Wildcats will play the winner of Stanford vs. Duke at home in the second round. NU won't have to face No. 1 Maryland or No. 5 Florida until the championship game, but No.3 North Carolina, which beat NU earlier this year, is on the Wildcats' side of the bracket. Check out the whole bracket on the NCAA's website.