Forman: Polishing off perfect perfection

Matt Forman

Towson, Md.– How do you improve upon a 21-1 season that ended in a national championship?

That was the question facing Northwestern before the 2009 season.

Like clockwork, any interrogatives were turned into exclamation points on Sunday, as NU rode a downright dominating 21-7 performance over North Carolina in the national championship to complete its drive for a five.

There were plenty of ‘D’ words going around to describe Sunday’s win – dedicated, determined and driven. But coach Kelly Amonte Hiller thought of one ‘A’ word.

“The biggest challenge when you win a lot is to appreciate,” she said.

Without a doubt, the Cats will appreciate an undefeated, 23-0 season – a season where they won a lot. It was a perfect way to punctuate a perfect run.

If it wasn’t loud and clear in the past, it should be now – Amonte Hiller played for a dynasty at Maryland, and now she has built a dynasty. On Sunday, she earned a ring for her thumb – and did it in record-breaking fashion.

Amonte Hiller’s .955 winning percentage is the best all-time. The Cats outscored the Tar Heels by 14 goals – the biggest beatdown in NCAA championship game history. NU scored 21 goals, including 15 in the first half, topping the previous records of 16 and 11 scores. The Cats scored 73 goals during this year’s tournament, averaging 18.3 scores per game, pushing aside the previous marks of 64 and 16.7 tallies.

When it comes to wins, NU has won 54 straight home games, 29 straight games overall and 20 consecutive NCAA tournament games.

The senior class – led by two of the best players in school history – ended their superlative career with an 85-3 overall record. Hilary Bowen set the new mark for career goals in postseason play (40). Hannah Nielsen recorded six assists on Sunday, the most for a championship game. She recorded 16 in the 2009 tournament and 35 in her postseason career – both records.

Oh, and they broke one other record – most fans leaving at halftime. In the press box elevator at halftime, an NCAA official told athletic director Jim Phillips he was disappointed. With the 15-3 score, fans were leaving without buying concessions.

If the stats don’t tell you enough, there’s no better way of saying it – NU is simply better than anyone and everyone else. No one would have beaten the Cats on Sunday. They were bigger, better, faster and stronger. Not even Syracuse, who won its second consecutive national title in men’s lacrosse Monday afternoon, would have been capable.

Losing Nielsen, Bowen, goalie Morgan Lathrop and eight other seniors in arguably the most decorated class in school history presents a new challenge: How do you improve upon perfection?

For one of the team’s key returning players, it’s a challenge that she doesn’t have to worry about for a while.

“Come the fall, we’ll see what we’ve got,” junior Danielle Spencer said. “I certainly don’t think teams should be thinking that (the championship streak will come to an end), because next year’s going to be just as strong.”

Still, just like this year’s team had a question to answer, that will be the one the 2010 Cats have to address in their fix for six.

The key to Amonte Hiller’s reign in Evanston has been directed by one goal – get one step better – every practice, every game, every season. But how does it get much better than this?

“Winning more games and winning another championship,” Amonte Hiller said. “That’s the next step – come back and rebuild the team.”

Still, she’s not worrying about that just yet. She’s got a perfect season to celebrate.

“This was a good one,” she said. “We’ll enjoy it for a little bit.”

Deputy Sports Editor Matt Forman is a Medill sophomore. He can be reached at [email protected]