Lacrosse: Back on top, NU downs Maryland 8-7

Jonah Rosenblum

STONY BROOK, N.Y. – Attacker Shannon Smith said after last season’s loss to Maryland in the NCAA Lacrosse Championship, she never wanted to see that kind of hurt in her teammates’ eyes again. The Northwestern rising senior made sure her team wouldn’t suffer the same fate this season, scoring four times to lift her team to an 8-7 victory over the Terrapins on May 29.

“Ever since last season, I’ve told myself that I never want to see the hurt in my teammates’ eyes again, so I was going to do everything it took to win this national championship,” Smith said. “I knew that I had to keep stepping up no matter what happened.”

NU got off to a rough start, falling behind 4-1 after Maryland scored four goals in a minute and 34 seconds. Three of those goals came off the stick of Maryland rising sophomore midfielder Beth Glaros, who entered the contest with just 18 goals on the season.

The early Maryland lead stood in stark contrast to last year’s contest, in which NU jumped out to an early 6-0 lead but lost after surrendering seven consecutive goals to cap off the first half and begin the second.

This year, the Cats trailed early, but they didn’t trail for long, scoring five of the next six goals to take the lead.

While the goals were impressive, the key to the Cats’ comeback was adjustments made on the defensive end. The Terrapins scored just one goal in the 32:36 following Glaros’ goal that put the Terrapins up 4-1.

“When we scored all of those goals, we were basically moving the ball around because they were doubling early,” Glaros said. “I think that they backed off a little bit.”

NU was able to shut Maryland down by keeping its top players tightly under wraps. Laura Merrifield, Sarah Mollison and Katie Schwarzmann entered the match with 165 goals on the season, but the trio combined for just one goal and two assists.

“Mollison is so key to their attack,” NU coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “She really runs the offense and she’s their field general, and we wanted to try to take them out of that so we could focus in on their other major players … We were able to contain their three big guns, which we felt was our key to defensive success.”

After Terrapins attacker Kristy Black tied the contest at six with just less than 20 minutes remaining, Long Island native Kara Mupo put a free-position shot home to give NU a lead with 15:23 remaining that would last until the final whistle.

“We practice these situations a lot,” Mupo said. “What was going through my head, just put in the back of the net like our coaches said. Obviously the goalie is very good so put it where she’s not. We wanted this really bad, so what was going through my head: put in the back of the net.”

Mupo was one of many Long Island natives to excel in the championship game. All eight of the Cats’ goals were scored by Long Island natives.

“Long Island is obviously a Mecca for lacrosse,” Amonte Hiller said.

Smith won the Tournament MVP after an outstanding four-game stretch that saw her notch 18 goals and four assists.

“Shannon is a very good player, and it was difficult to guard her around the crease,” Maryland midfielder Katie Schwarzmann said. “She is tough and goes hard. She’s very strong. I did enjoy playing her. It was a challenge.”

Amonte Hiller, who coached Smith at a lacrosse camp back when Smith was just eight or nine years old, said the Tewaaraton Trophy winner has changed very little on the field since that time.

“She was just like she is now,” Amonte Hiller said. “She was a terror. She could just take over a game and make big plays and make things happen. She had this will, this will to win, and that’s what made her an extremely attractive recruit.”

Meanwhile, rising senior goaltender Brianne LoManto provided critical help on the other side of the field, making eight saves to record her 21st victory of the season.

“Give credit to her,” Glaros said. “She’s a great goalie, and we just couldn’t stick our shots. There were a few that really came up short and that we wish we could have back, but that’s how it goes.”

LoManto and Smith helped NU overcome a very physical Maryland team that ended the game with 34 fouls compared to the 12 that were called on the Cats. The physicality is nothing unusual for either team, according to Mollison, since both storied programs are used to playing with a target on their backs.

“I play against the best girls in the country every single day so that’s expected,” Mollison said. “You expect to come out and have a competitive game no matter whom your play. We play for Maryland, and every team is out to get us.”

NU was particularly out to get Maryland after the Terrapins defeated the Cats 13-11 in last year’s championship game.

Ultimately, the Cats succeeded in their quest, and so Maryland ends its season with an impressive 21-2 record, along with a taste of disappointment.

“We accomplished great things this year,” Terrapins coach Cathy Reese said. “We had a lot to overcome, and today’s game was a fight. It was a hard-fought game, and obviously it went all the way down to the wire, so it was just exciting but it’s always disappointing when it ends this way.”

On the other side of the field, the victory marked a remarkable comeback for a NU team that endured a great deal of heartbreak over the last 12 months, beginning with its loss to Maryland last season and continuing this year with a hard-fought loss to Florida and a stunning loss to unranked Johns Hopkins. Those two losses are now simply bumps on a road that led the Cats to a national championship.

“I’m just so happy right now,” Amonte Hiller said after the game. “This was a culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of evaluating of ourselves, from our lowest moment, to our loss to Johns Hopkins and at Florida mid-season, to just gutting it out and winning games by small amounts all season.”

Last time, the Cats won a championship, they followed with four more titles. It’s too early to tell whether history will repeat itself, but on a sunny Sunday afternoon in Stony Brook, N.Y., the future looks bright for this NU team. The Cats lose just two starters going into next year, and they return many of their best players, including LoManto and Smith.

“The future is what we make of it,” Mupo said. “This year, we came into the season with a goal for ourselves, and if we set goals for ourselves like we did this season, the future looks bright and there are opportunities ahead.”

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