The Wildcats continue their playoff run on Friday, throwing down for the third time with their rivals and No. 1 seed Maryland in the semifinal round of the NCAA Tournament.
The Terrapins (20-1) were undefeated in the regular season, including a victory over Northwestern (16-4) in Evanston, but the ‘Cats took them down to secure their first ever Big Ten title.
It marked the first time that NU had beaten the Terps since 2012, and the team is looking to continue to make history in their first appearance in the national semifinals since 2014. The two teams will return to the site of that win, Johns Hopkins’ campus in Baltimore, Md., for this crucial matchup.
“I think that we’ve been working pretty hard to get to this point,” head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Obviously, we’ve been here before in the past, and I think sometimes, when you lose that confidence and your ability to get over the hump, it takes a little bit to get back,”
Both teams have potentially dominant players all over the field. In particular, Northwestern’s Selena Lasota has been chosen as a finalist for the 2019 Tewaaraton award (for the best player in the country) along with Maryland’s Jen Giles and Megan Taylor. Giles, a midfielder, is a threat both as a goal scorer and playmaker. In the last matchup, though, the Wildcats held Giles to zero points. Amonte Hiller credits the defense with their effort to thwart her.
“I would say that about midway through March, we really buckled down and really focused in on getting better defensively just for the fundamentals every single day. It’s allowed us to keep players like Jen Giles at bay,” Amonte Hiller said.
The ‘Cats have also continued to show off their offensive strength throughout this postseason. In the win against Maryland, six different players scored. Lasota and Izzy Scane each recorded four goals, and Lauren Gilbert and Lindsey McKone tossed up a hat trick apiece.
Along with Claire Quinn, those four, the most important members of Northwestern’s offense, have outscored opponents 261-259, throwing in 77 assists for good measure.
Taylor, the Terrapins’ goal keeper, will almost certainly be the biggest threat to the dynamic Wildcat attack. The All-American senior’s .556 save percentage ranks second in the country.
Another crucial piece for fourth-ranked Northwestern will take place in the draw circle. Both teams have the ability to score consistently, so a lot of this game will come down to who clocks more possession time. In the Big Ten championship, the Wildcats won 19 draws compared to Maryland’s nine. That impressive effort was spearheaded by specialist Brennan Dwyer, who ranks fifth in the country for draw controls per game.
A win on Friday would send Northwestern to the finals to play the winner of #3 North Carolina and #2 Boston College. It would be the first time the Wildcats were in the finals since 2012, when they last brought home the national title.
It is undeniable that this Maryland team will be hard to beat twice. But if the Wildcats continue to look like the best team in the country, as they have for the past month, it is difficult to bet against them.
“We’re excited about this next match up. It just gives us another opportunity,” head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Every game is going to be a battle... We feel like we match up well against Maryland and we’re just going to give it our best effort.”
The Wildcats and Terrapins are scheduled to get going at 6:30 CT on Friday, though their exact start time is dependent on the preceding semifinal between the Tar Heels and Eagles. We will have live coverage of the whole weekend direct from Homewood Field in Baltimore.