Lacrosse: NU snags seventh ALC championship

Colin Becht

Northwestern’s hopes of winning its seventh-straight American Lacrosse Conference championship seemed bleak as the Wildcats fell behind Florida 8-5 with just more than 13 minutes to play.

Then the Cats scored five straight goals to take their first and final lead, securing the title.

No. 3 NU defeated No. 4 Florida 10-9 on Saturday in the ALC championship game to remain the only champion of the conference tournament in its five-year history. NU avenged a loss to Florida in the regular season, when the Gators won 13-11.

“It was great to play Florida again, to prove ourselves that we did get better over the course of the year,” junior attacker Shannon Smith said.

Since losing two consecutive games, NU has won its past five, each over ranked opponents.

“We’ve gone through the regular season and we’ve had our wounds,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Being able to come out with a win was huge in terms of moving forward into the (NCAA) tournament.”

The Cats learned their tournament fate on Sunday night. NU earned the second seed in the NCAA Championships and will host Boston College in the first round next Saturday at 2 p.m.

After falling behind 8-5 on Saturday, the Cats’ biggest deficit of the game, NU rallied with three quick goals to equalize, including two from Smith.

The Cats took their first lead of the game with seven minutes and 17 seconds remaining when sophomore midfielder Amanda Macaluso deked Florida goaltender Mikey Meagher with a shot fake before finishing her free position opportunity.

Florida responded after Smith put in an open-net goal when attacker Ashley Bruns streaked down the field facing no defensive pressure and scored. However, though the Gators won the ensuing draw, NU was given possession as attacker Kitty Cullen failed a stick check out of a timeout. That turnover allowed the Cats to run out the rest of the clock.

Amonte Hiller said the team discussed requesting the stick check on Cullen in the timeout and then sent senior midfielder Colleen Magarity to ask the referees for it.

Smith, the tournament MVP, finished the game with seven points, including five goals.

“She’s an incredible leader for our team,” sophomore defender Taylor Thornton said. “She really showed up for us today.”

While it has usually been NU that struggled with shooting percentage this season, Florida scored on just .360 of its shots. Cats goaltender Brianne LoManto came up with six saves and kept the Gators scoreless on their three free-position shots. LoManto was named to the All-Tournament team.

Draw controls enabled NU’s comeback, led by freshman midfielder Alyssa Leonard’s nine, one more than the entire Florida team. After the Cats fell behind 8-5, Leonard, who also made the All-Tournament team, won the next four draws to keep the ball in NU’s possession as the Cats mounted their comeback.

“Alyssa really changed the game around in the second half,” Smith said. “She really won the game for us out there.”

Though the Cats didn’t lead until late in the second half, the NU defense slowed Florida just enough to keep the Cats in the game. NU managed to keep the nation’s second leading goal-scorer in check as Cullen was held scoreless. After assisting attacker Caroline Chesterman for the first goal of the game, Cullen didn’t pick up another point.

“To be able to shut down Kitty Cullen and hold a great offensive team to nine goals was a good challenge for us,” Amonte Hiller said. “We’re excited about the improvement defensively.”

Magarity and Thornton also earned All-Tournament team selections.