All Alyssa Leonard, Kerri Harrington and Kate Macdonald could do was sit and wait. Sidelined simultaneously with yellow cards, the Northwestern senior leaders watched on as time ran out on their season and collegiate playing careers.
The No. 1 Maryland Terrapins (22-1) outlasted No. 5 Northwestern (14-7) 9-6 Friday night in Towson, Maryland to earn their fourth national championship berth in five years. Maryland will play Syracuse for the third time this season Sunday for the national championship.
As for Northwestern, its season ends just as it did last year, with a loss in the national semifinals.
“I’m very proud of the team this year,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said, her voice cracking with emotion. “Despite some setbacks I think this team accomplished a lot. It was one of the greatest groups I’ve had and they did a lot for this program. Congratulations to Maryland they deserved it.”
Maryland, the hometown favorite, led most of the game. All-American Kelly McPartland led all scorers with three goals.
Maryland won the edge in draw controls 10-7 thanks in large part to sophomore stud Taylor Cummings, who had four draws. Leonard had three draw controls, her lowest total in her last 11 games.
“We came up short in the draw area,” Leonard said. “They did a great job.”
Cummings, who is one of the five finalists for national player of the year, beat Harrington on a backdoor cut and scored the game’s first goal off a feed from Brooke Griffin three and a half minutes in.
The Cats won the draw control and elected to slow the pace and take their time offensively. But an ill-advised errant pass from Kara Mupo led to instant offense for the Terps who move the ball up the field in a blink of an eye. The Cats caught a break, however, when an apparent McPartland score was waved off due to a crease violation.
Minutes later the Cats got on the board. Leonard, shadowed closely by All-American defender Megan Douty, found a wide-open Jess Carroll across the middle for an easy score. Just 36 seconds later senior Christy Turner used a double move to dodge past her defender and net a goal for the 11th consecutive game.
After 10 minutes of play the Cats led 2-1. The lead lasted for seven more minutes and then disappeared for good.
Maryland began to ratchet up its defensive pressure, sending double teams after the ball. On one possession Northwestern moved the ball quickly enough to find an open Kat DeRonda, who failed to finish. But for the most part, Maryland’s pressure baffled NU, causing turnovers and bad shots.
With 12 and a half minutes remaining in the first half, Griffin again hooked up with McPartland, who used space from a Cummings screen to find the back of the net.
The Terps regained the lead three minutes later when Griffin got a step on her defender, Kate Ivory, and flipped one by Bridget Bianco from close range.
DeRonda had a great look saved in front of the cage, but other than that Northwestern did not have many chances offensively in the final 10 minutes of the first half.
Bianco kept NU within reach with three gritty saves, including an incredible kick save on a bouncing bullet and a straight-on free position stop.
However, a Turner yellow card in the final two minutes of the half gave Maryland a crucial man-up chance. The Terps took advantage of the power play by swinging the ball across the fan to an open McPartland, who put Maryland up 4-2 with 1:33 left. The Terps weren’t done.
Cummings won the subsequent draw. Then Freshman Zoe Stukenberg converted a free position shot with just 29 seconds remaining to give the No. 1 seed a 5-2 advantage at the break. The Terps closed the half on a 4-0 run.
“In the first half we had some chances and we just didn’t capitalize on them,” Amonte Hiller said. “We still played a great half but we could have gained a little more momentum.”
Leonard brought the Cats within two with an 8-meter strike with 24:30 left in the second half. But senior Beth Glaros answered just over a minute later to make it 6-3.
Maryland then began to slow the pace down a little to burn some clock. After working the ball around the fan McPartland connected with Stukenberg, who scored from the doorstep.
McPartland then took the following draw control to the goal, finishing a diving scoop shot and beating two defenders in the process. Just like that Maryland had its largest lead of the game, 8-3 with 16 minutes left.
By this time Northwestern’s offense had become stagnant. NU did not take a shot for a span of 11 minutes. The Cats began to exhibit poor body language after every call that went against them. Amonte Hiller sensed some unraveling and called a timeout with about 12 minutes remaining.
The Cats came out of the timeout with more energy. They extended pressure on defense and were more aggressive on the offensive third.
Mupo, who has averaged a hat trick over the last month, was silent in the first half. But the redshirt junior gave the Cats some life at the 9:21 mark when she converted an off-balance rocket between two defenders to make the score 8-4.
“Maryland plays great team defense,” Amonte Hiller said. “But we needed to play a little bit more aggressive. Toward the end of the game when we had to play aggressive we had some pretty good looks and that’s the way you have to play all the time."
McPartland quickly dissolved any Northwestern momentum when she waited for a double team, then blew past it to score.
Mupo drew a double team of her own next time down and found Kelly Rich over the middle to cut the deficit back to four with 6:41 left. Then Mupo scored from a nearly impossible angle parallel to the goal to pull the Cats within three with 4:13 left. But Maryland kept winning draws, making it difficult for NU to go on the run it needed.
The Cats scrambled to force turnovers but ended up getting the three aforementioned yellow cards in a span of two minutes, which killed any chance of a comeback. The Terps held the ball for the final four minutes until the buzzer sounded.
This is the beginning of a rivalry between women’s lacrosse’s winningest programs that will blossom next season in the new Big 10.
“It’s hard to think about next year today but we’ll have a continued great rivalry with [Maryland],” Amonte Hiller said.
To the casual Northwestern lacrosse fan, anything short of a national championship might seem unexceptional. But for this team, which had more losses than any Amonte Hiller squad in the last decade, a Final Four appearance was truly something to be proud of, especially for the team’s nine seniors.
“It was a big senior class,” Amonte Hiller said. “This senior class really bought into the tradition of Northwestern lacrosse and the culture we set forth right at the beginning. Despite the loss, that’s why I’m so proud of this team.”