Wildcats Claw Back Late, Defeat Florida for Fifth Straight ALC Title
from press release
ALC tournament MVP Shannon Smith scored five goals for the second straight day Satruday in second-seeded Northwestern's 10-9 comeback victory over top-seeded Florida.
© Jim Cowsert
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Trailing by three and with less than 14 minutes to play, No. 3 Northwestern exploded for a 5-0 run over a 10-minute stretch that allowed it to overcome No. 4 Florida, 10-9, in the ALC Championship game Saturday in Nashville. NU remains the only champion in the five-year history of the ALC Tournament and has now won seven consecutive conference championships.
Junior Shannon Smith scored five goals for the second straight day and finished with a hand in seven of NU's 10 tallies en route to winning tournament MVP honors. Freshman Alyssa Leonard also keyed Northwestern's comeback with her four straight draw control wins late in the second half; the ALC Rookie of the Year hauled in nine draw controls for the game, one off her career high.
"We didn't have our best game offensively and Florida did a great job defensively on us, but I think when we got down it just ignited that fire inside," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller. "Shannon scored a couple to spark us and got us back in it, and everyone just figured out they need to get aggressive. Once we did that we were much more effective, I was really excited about how we came back."
After the two teams combined for three turnovers on the opening possessions, Florida struck first it turned a broken play behind the net into a quick goal five minutes into the game.
The Gators made it 2-0 off a drive down the left of the fan, but
NU found its footing on offense after that. Sophomore Amanda
Macaluso converted off a gutsy dodge through several UF defenders
and, after Leonard easily won the draw control, Smith snuck home an
underhand shot to draw the Wildcats level at two.
Later trailing 3-2, NU goalkeeper Brianne LoManto came up with two enormous saves for the 'Cats, twice turning away the nation's leader in goals scored, Kitty Cullen, on point-blank blasts. Northwestern used that momentum on the other end when Smith fed Jessica Russo on a delayed fast break and saw Russo rip a shot past Mikey Meagher to tie things at three.
A yellow card against Northwestern in the defensive end helped Florida set up its fourth goal of the game, a low-angle shot on the crease, and the Gators tacked on one more on its next possession to go ahead, 5-3. NU had the answer with a well-executed offensive set, however, as Smith set up a cutting Erin Fitzgerald as the Wildcats pulled within one.
One final free position attempt by NU with 10 seconds remaining was denied by Meagher as the Wildcats entered halftime trailing by just one, 5-4, despite being outshot 17-8 over the opening 30 minutes.
Northwestern erased that deficit 5:20 into the second half when Smith deftly made her way around the crease, essentially no-looking a sidearm shot past Meagher for her second of the afternoon. NU got yet another big save by LoManto on a Cullen free position shot five minutes later, but Florida came back with a 3-0 run and go ahead, 8-5, and take its largest lead of the game with 13:17 remaining.
But NU refused to surrender and worked efficiently on offense over its next two possessions, both of which resulted in unassisted goals by Smith to pull NU within one. After a Gator timeout and another win on the draw control by Leonard, Kat DeRonda found a wide-open Russo on the doorstep and Russo finished to even things at eight, the fourth tie of the afternoon.
The tie didn't last long as Northwestern seized the 9-8 lead when Macaluso scored the Wildcats' first free position goal of the game with 7:17 remaining. It gave Northwestern its first lead of the afternoon as well as its first lead over the Gators in more than 100 minutes of game action against UF this season. Florida was awarded the next draw control only to be turned over by an aggressive Taylor Thornton, allowing the 'Cats to drain precious minutes off the clock.
After Smith scored an open-net goal to give NU a two-goal lead, Florida finally managed to force a turnover and tally a breakaway goal to get within one, 10-9. The Gators were awarded the ensuing draw control but were forced to hand it right back to the 'Cats following an illegal stick ruling.
LoManto finished with six saves in the net for Northwestern.
On Sunday evening, Northwestern will learn the details of its draw for the 2011 NCAA championship, including the date, time, location and opponent for a potential first-round game next weekend. The bracket will be announced on a streaming webcast on NCAA.com beginning at 6:30 p.m. Central Sunday.
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