The first few minutes were going to be key if Northwestern was to upset No. 1 Maryland in the Big Ten championship game. And early on, Northwestern was in a good position to do just that
Taylor Cummings, Maryland's senior captain and team leader, earned a free position about two minutes into the game. An efficient scorer from the free position, she looked ready to put Northwestern down a goal.
But Mallory Weisse, Northwestern's freshman goaltender, had other ideas. She stood Cummings up, basically taking the ball out of her stick. Down at the other end, Selena Lasota knifed through the Maryland defense to finish low past Maryland keeper Megan Taylor, giving Northwestern the early 1-0 lead. Perhaps an upset was in sight — it was an ideal start on the shores of Lake Michigan.
Alas, Maryland proved too much, outscoring the Wildcats 6-3 in the second half after a 6-6 first half had concluded. With the 12-9 win, the Terrapins are now Big Ten champions and likely the No. 1 overall seed in the NCAA Tournament.
The Terrapins got on the board first in the second half, but Northwestern's Danita Stroup tied things at 7 with two minutes gone by in the half. After that, Megan Whittle of Maryland ran at the goal and fell down, but not before the ball trickled in through the legs of Weisse, who otherwise played a tremendous game, giving Maryland a lead it would not relinquish.
Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's teams always play with an edge. Physical play defined the Northwestern dynasty of the mid-aughts. Despite the up-and-down season, her team brought that edge today. Playing in their away jerseys on their home field, the Wildcats played their hearts out and demonstrated to themselves and their fans they are still a threat to anyone come the NCAA Tournament.
The team came into the Big Ten Tournament needed at least one victory to ensure eligibility for the year-end championship. It got that Thursday night, defeating Michigan by double-digits. The next day, the Wildcats came out and beat a Penn State team which just three weeks earlier had defeated them. And on Sunday, the team hung tough for most of the game with the undefeated Terrapins, who had beaten them 17-4 in March. The players can walk out of this Big Ten Tournament with their heads held high, confident in their ability to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament.