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End of a dynasty? Season in review

A week ago the Maryland Terrapins defeated Syracuse to win their 12th national championship and put an end to the 2013-2014 Division 1 women's lacrosse season. Here is an overdue review of Northwestern’s campaign.

Feb. 4: Perhaps the best thing that happened to the Wildcats this year took place before their season started. Just five days before Northwestern opened its season against No. 8 Virginia, head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller signed a contract extension through the end of the 2021 season. Amonte Hiller owns a career coaching record of 229-40 and a postseason tally of 36-4.

Feb. 22: After sneaking past Virginia, the No. 4 Cats edged No. 5 Duke to open their season with a pair of hard-fought, one-goal victories over top-10 ranked teams.

March 9: The Cat’s blew a two-goal lead late in the second half to Notre Dame, who handed NU its first loss of the season. This game, and the Cats’ home opener were played indoors at Lake Barrington Field House due to inclement weather in Evanston.

March 11: Senior Alyssa Leonard broke the NCAA record for career draw controls in a victory over Michigan. She finished her career with 469. The previous record was 353. Leonard also finished with an NU single-season record of 163 draw controls.

March 23: The Cats fell 11-7 to No. 3 Syracuse. The loss was NU’s third in four games, the first time that has happened since the 2002-2003. These three losses snapped lengthy winning streaks over Notre Dame (14-game streak), Ohio State (10-game streak) and the Cuse (11-game streak).

March 31: In their first true home game of the season, the Cats avenged their 2012-2013 semifinal loss to North Carolina by topping the No. 1 Tar Heels at Lakeside Field for the program’s 300th victory. After its worst start to a season in over a decade, NU seemed to have rediscovered its winning ways. Until…

April 13: NU’s five-game winning streak ended in a double overtime defeat to Johns Hopkins. The Cats also lost sophomore attacker Kaleigh Craig to injury for the rest of the season. While Craig led the team in scoring at the time, the injury was temporarily counterbalanced by the emergence of senior Kat DeRonda. DeRonda, who did not start for the majority of the season, scored 13 goals in a span of four games to carry the scoring load during NU’s winning-streak. Unfortunately for the Cats, DeRonda’s scoring surge did not continue into the playoffs when NU needed to fill Craig’s void the most.

April 26: After a heartbreaking loss to No. 4 Florida, the Cats closed out their season in historic fashion, beating USC inside the Friendly Confines of Wrigley Field. 

May 4: Florida used a furious comeback to stun the Cats and win the final ALC championship at Lakeside Field.  After an up and down season, this was not how NU wanted to enter the NCAA tournament. But this devastating loss may have been the best thing that could have happened to the Cats.

May 17: The Cats earned the No. 5 seed in the NCAA tournament, marking the first time in over a decade they did not get a top four seed and thus home field advantage through the round of eight. Nonetheless, the Cats took care of a talented Louisville team in the second round to set up a third matchup with No. 4 Florida for a spot in the Final Four. Against all odds the Cats outlasted Florida in overtime to advance to their 10th consecutive championship weekend.

May 23: Northwestern lost a hard-fought national semifinal to the eventual champion Maryland. Maryland’s national title victory marked the 11th straight year Northwestern either won the title or was eliminated by the champion.

Final thoughts: There were points this season when I wondered if NU’s “dynasty” had reached its conclusion. Losses to teams NU hadn’t lost to in over a decade, an apparent lack of offensive firepower (NU’s offense ranked 49th in scoring) and stiffer competition—was this the end of an era? While the team’s seven losses are distracting, a 10th consecutive Final Four appearance is what this season should be remembered for. The quality of women’s lacrosse across the country is improving. Other programs are catching up. And that’s why this title run was so special. Even with a limited roster (sans Leonard), an injury to its best scorer and more talented challengers, this team found a way. The Cats may never win five consecutive national championships again, but if this season was any indication, Northwestern will be squarely in championship contention for years to come.