Nina Mandell

 Lacrosse Photos

ANNAPOLIS, Md. — Minutes after Northwestern defeated Virginia to win lacrosse’s national championship, Kristin Kjellman lifted the championship trophy above her head as her teammates jumped around her.

It was a fitting gesture from the sophomore who essentially carried her team for the first 25 minutes of the game.

Is Kjellman the best lacrosse player in the country?

“Yup,” was all NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said to that question after the Wildcats won the national championship Sunday before settling back into her seat with a big smile on her face.

The sophomore scored the Cats’ first five goals in their 13-10 win against Virginia (17-5) in the championship game and was named Most Valuable Player for the NCAA tournament.

She is also a finalist for the Tewaaraton Trophy. The Tewaaraton is the women’s lacrosse’s award for player of the year, which will be announced June 2.

Kjellman was the only NU player to score for almost 26 minutes to start the game, before Aly Josephs joined her on the scoreboard with 4:05 left in the first half.

Virginia scored the first goal of the game, but Kjellman answered two minutes later with two goals less than 20 seconds apart.

Kjellman dominated from that point and countered Virginia’s scores with goals of her own. The Cavaliers got two more before Kjellman scored her fourth and answered another Virginia goal with her fifth with 13:02 left.

At that point the Cavalier defense focused its efforts on NU’s most deft attacker, and defenders swarmed her to keep her scoreless for the rest of the game.

But Kjellman was almost more potent when she couldn’t score. Double teams on Kjellman opened up scoring opportunities for sophomore Kristen Boege, senior Sarah Albrecht, Josephs and junior Lindsey Munday who then easily took control of the game. Those four combined for eight goals.

“She’s very good at the postback,” Virginia defender Nikki Lieb said. “We practiced for it but doing it lefthanded is not something we’re used to.

“As a defender you feel like you’re there, but you have to be way in front.”

Against Virginia, Kjellman broke out of a scoring funk which resulted from her being a tightly scouted and marked player throughout the tournament. She averaged two goals per game in the first three tournament games while her season average is 3.1 goals per game.

Kjellman’s five-goal explosion was her highest total since she scored six during the Cats’ 22-6 win against Connecticut on April 2. Amonte Hiller attributed part of her success to the strength of the players around her. Lindsey Munday, who has combined with Kjellman for a dangerous duo all season, had three assists to her sophomore teammate Sunday.

“When you have good players around you, you became great,” Amonte Hiller said. “When you have not-so-good players around you, you can only be OK.”

And as the awards pile up for the First-Team All-America, Kjellman is leaving fewer in doubt that she’s part of this year’s lacrosse greats.

But for Kjellman, now is a time to enjoy her team’s trophy.

“I think everyone’s going to be really excited for us to bring it home…” she said. “It was so exciting, I can’t even describe it.”

But as the sophomore threw up the ball she had been cradling as the clock ran out on the game in celebration, it was clear that the championship offense belonged to Kjellman.

Reach Nina Mandell at [email protected]