NU Set For Cinderella Showdown (Women’s Lacrosse)

Wade Askew

By Wade AskewThe Daily Northwestern

The Cinderella of old will meet the new Cinderella in the Final Four today.

The University of Pennsylvania has never been to a women’s lacrosse Final Four. The last time the Quakers (16-1) even qualified for the NCAA tournament was 1984 – before anyone on the Penn roster was born.

It is easy to draw parallels between this Penn team, which is undefeated save for a 13-4 loss to Northwestern (19-1) on March 9 in Evanston, and NU’s first title team in 2005.

“We were going in, we were a strong defensive team, decent on offense (in 2005),” NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “I think that they have that same style of play, they’re really hard working, well coached. … If we take anything for granted we will misstep.”

Not only will Penn have the support of their home crowd at Franklin Field on the Penn campus, but they will likely have the support of most casual lacrosse fans as the lovable underdog going up against a top-ranked powerhouse.

But the “Goliath” of this matchup can derive motivation from its position too.

“When you’re the top seed, everyone wants you to lose, so we’re playing with a chip on our shoulder because we’re the top seed playing against the Cinderella story,” Amonte Hiller said. “Everyone really wants Penn to win, and we’ve got to play with a chip and really get after it. I think that tends to be our style anyway – to play with a little bit of a chip on our shoulder.”

While most would assume it an advantage for Penn to playing in what is essentially a home game, the Wildcats said they actually like their visiting position.

Amonte Hiller noted how it is hard to play in the Final Four at home, drawing from her own experience as a freshman and sophomore at the University of Maryland. Maryland hosted the Final Four both years, 1993 and 1994, and did not win the championship either year. She called traveling to the Final Four “something special.”

Sophomore Hannah Nielsen echoed Amonte Hiller’s sentiments.

“Quite frankly I think it might benefit us,” Nielsen said. “We get to go with the whole Final Four experience – we get to travel to Pennsylvania as a team, we get to stay in a hotel as a team, eat every single meal together, be with each other 24/7. That’s something that Penn might not have.”

One advantage NU certainly has over Penn is experience. This will be the third trip to the Final Four for the NU senior class.

Seniors Kristen Kjellman and Aly Josephs both consider their experience as a considerable advantage. Josephs, last year’s finals’ MVP, pointed to focus and confidence as two important side effects of having been to Final Four before.

But Amonte Hiller voices the alternative point of view.

“You’d think (experience) would be (an advantage), but two years ago we were in the same position as Penn was,” Amonte Hiller said. “They’ve got a lot of emotions going on – this is their home facility, they’ve had a great season, their only loss is to us, so they want to avenge that loss.”

Aside from the abundant storylines, Penn versus NU figures to be an interesting matchup on the field. The teams are the only two in the nation with only one loss and possess the top two scoring defenses (NU allows 5.96 goals per game, Penn 6.29).

While NU dominated Penn earlier in the season, that game was played while snow was still on the ground and Winter Quarter was still in session. Since then, Penn has gone 13-0, winning by an average score of 12-6, including a come-from-behind 9-7 win over Maryland in the quarterfinals.

But despite Penn’s record success, NU believes that as long as it does its job, it will earn a spot in the national championship game.

“I think we are unstoppable,” Josephs said. “I think if we put all the factors together in offense, defense and the midfield, that no one can beat us.”

Reach Wade Askew at [email protected]