Lacrosse: Northwestern gets revenge on Florida to reclaim ALC crown

No. 2 seed Northwestern celebrates after beating No. 1 seed Florida in the ALC Championship game Sunday in Baltimore. This is NU's sixth time winning the ALC tournament in it's seven years of existence.

Source: Northwestern Athletics

No. 2 seed Northwestern celebrates after beating No. 1 seed Florida in the ALC Championship game Sunday in Baltimore. This is NU’s sixth time winning the ALC tournament in it’s seven years of existence.

Ava Wallace, Assistant Sports Editor

Gone was the flat, uninspired Northwestern from its last matchup against Florida.

Florida coach Amanda O’Leary was right when she predicted the two teams’ second meeting this season would not go as smoothly as the first, when the Gators walked away with a 22-4 win. Florida faced a different NU in the American Lacrosse Conference championship game Sunday, and it could not keep up.

The second-seeded Wildcats (17-2, 4-1 ALC) played a slow, deliberate game against the top-seeded Gators (17-2, 4-1) and were able to stump Florida where it mattered most — in NU’s defensive end. The Gators’ usually high-powered offense could not get anything going and fell to the Cats 8-3 in Baltimore.

With the victory, NU regains its ALC championship after Florida bested them in 2012 to become the first team other than the Cats to win the ALC Tournament. NU has now won the ALC Tournament six of the seven times it has been held.

The Cats’ defense held the Gators to just 9 shots Sunday, compared to the 28 the Gators took during the teams’ first meeting in April.

NU took a whopping 24 shots against the Florida on Sunday and edged the first seed in the circle, winning 10 draw controls while the Gators had 3.

Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said her team’s tight defense made the offensive difference this time around.

“(Florida) usually come out at us hard, and we talked about that, and we really just played lockdown defense,” Amonte Hiller said. “I think our defense helped our offense, and we talked a lot about helping them back by having a good possession … and really waiting for quality shots and quality opportunities.”

Although the Cats’ offense certainly took advantage of their ball control and took calculated shots, goals were not coming in from the team’s usual offensive leaders. Neither the Cats’ leading goal scorer, senior attack Erin Fitzgerald, nor any of her senior counterparts — midfielder Taylor Thornton, midfielder Amanda Macaluso and midfielder Ali Cassera — netted any shots against the Gators.

Instead, and perhaps fittingly for a team that will graduate seven seniors in a few weeks , Sunday’s contest was all about the junior class.

Juniors Kate Macdonald, Kat DeRonda, Alyssa Leonard and Kelly Rich handled the goal-scoring for NU, with DeRonda leading the pack with a hat trick.

Sunday’s championship match was the first time in 22 games Fitzgerald did not score a goal.

Still, the Cats’ offensive success was a team effort. Junior defender Kerri Harrington led the team with 3 ground balls, and NU ultimately collected 13 compared to Florida’s 10. Thornton and senior midfielder Gabriella Flibotte tied to lead the team for caused turnovers with 2 each.

Leonard, the team’s draw control specialist, grabbed 7 of the Cats’ draw controls to bring her season total to 112, the most in a single season at NU.

The Cats played a conservative offense, and both teams were particularly careful with their possessions, evidenced by the game’s relatively low score. When both teams were scoring regularly, goals generally came within two to four minutes of each other, and possession battles were mainly fought at the field’s ends.

Transitions were quick and, although not always unchallenged, both teams seemed to prefer to play settled offense and defense. NU had 3 assists on the game.

The Cats started the game on their own terms after the Gators dominated the first period both in April and their semifinal matchup with Ohio State on Friday.

Rich scored in the third minute to get NU out of the gates first, something Leonard said her team has been focusing on since April’s loss.

“I think the last time we played (Florida) it was humbling,” Leonard said. “It made us realize you can’t come out and kind of expect it to happen. You have to will it to happen, and I think we did just that.”