Harrington Prepared for Mollison Matchup by Facing Teammate Smith in Practice
Northwestern freshman defender Kerri Harrington, making her first career start in the NCAA championship game, guards Maryland's Sarah Mollison. "It's not easy going up against Shannon Smith every day in practice, but I thought if I can handle Shannon, I can handle anyone," she said after helping hold Mollison scoreless for the first time in 67 games.
© John Mecionis
Kerri Harrington had the best preparation in the world for marking Sarah Mollison in the national championship game.
"It's not easy going up against Shannon Smith every day in practice, but I thought if I can handle Shannon, I can handle anyone," said Harrington, a freshman defender who held Mollison, Maryland's leading assister and most dangerous offensive threat, to zero goals, zero assists and just two shots in Northwestern's 8-7 victory. It was Harrington's first career start. She had previously played limited minutes in just nine games before Sundays title tilt.
"[Mollison] was fast, but I was fast too," Harrington said. "I handled it with speed, and when she got the ball I just went back to the basics. I didn't panic. I knew I could also play one-v-one defense. I just forced her up to the left, and there was a slide there every time."
Northwestern 8, Maryland 7
Limiting Mollison was central to Northwestern head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's strategy to disrupt Maryland's powerful offense (14.65 goals per game). With Harrington neutralizing Mollison, defenders like Lacey Vigmostad, Colleen Magarity and Taylor Thornton were free to focus on Laura Merrifield and Katie Schwarzmann. Merrifield had no goals on three shots; Schwarzmann scored one goal on two shots. Freshman midfielder Beth Glaros led the Terps with a career-high four goals, all in the first half.
"Mollison's so key to their attack. She really runs the offense. She's their field general and we wanted to try to take them out of that," Amonte Hiller said. "We able to contain their three big guns, which we felt was a key to our defensive success, and part of that plan was Kerri Harrington. I think she did a great job at that tonight."
Covering Mollison had become a fool's errand through the season and in the tournament in particular. The senior attacker came in with 56 goals and 45 assists, including four-goal games against Navy, Princeton and Duke in the NCAA tournament. After Maryland's 14-8 semifinal win over Duke on Friday, Blue Devils head coach Kerstin Kimel quoted Navy head coach Cindy Timchal on how hard it was to stop or even slow Mollison.
"Cindy Timchal from Navy put it this way – it's as if she's mastered every inch of the crease," Kimel said. "You look at everything that everyone has done trying to stop her, and it doesn't work, to be totally honest."
Northwestern found a way that worked. Mollison, the ACC Player of the Year and a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, finished her career with 153 goals and 119 assists, the latter of which is third on the Terps' all-time list. She had tallied a point in 67 straight games before she encountered Harrington.
"I give their defense a lot of credit, but at the same time, it's disappointing and it's tough to go out that way," Mollison said.
Harrington was one of 11 freshmen on the Wildcats roster this season. Six of them played in Sunday's NCAA final, including midfielder Alyssa Leonard, who led the Wildcats with five draw controls, and Kara Mupo, who came off the bench to contribute two goals, including the final go-ahead point. But it was Harrington's play against Mollison that was the difference-maker.
Harrington could even claim a hand in Smith's team-leading four goals, if she was so inclined. At the opposite end of the field, Smith had to deal with a tough matchup against Maryland defender Katie Gallagher.
"[Gallagher] is an unbelievable defender but during my practices, I face it all the time," Smith said. "I practice the faceguard all the time against Kerri, so I think within all the games I've played, I was very prepared for any defense that was thrown at me."