Lacrosse: Northwestern finally gets past Florida, advances to Final Four with overtime victory in Gainesville

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Daily file photo by Susan Du

Senior attack Kat DeRonda looks upfield. DeRonda scored three goals, including the game-winner in overtime, helping Northwestern beat Florida 12-11 in the NCAA quarterfinals to advance to the Wildcats’ 10th straight Final Four.

Ava Wallace, Web Editor

At the end of the day, Northwestern came through in the game that mattered most.

After losing to Florida twice this season, the No. 5 Wildcats (14-6) defeated the No. 4 Gators (18-3) on Saturday afternoon in Gainesville, Florida in the quarterfinals of the NCAA championship, 12-11. The final goal came in the second three-minute period of overtime.

It was NU’s 10th game of the season decided by a single goal, of which the team has now won five. The Cats now travel to Towson, Maryland, to face top-seeded Maryland in the semifinal round. NU has now made 10 straight Final Fours.

NU’s strategy didn’t differ much from the first two meetings. First, senior draw control specialist Alyssa Leonard won on the circle. Although the Cats bested the Gators in draw controls the two previous times, winning the circle was nonetheless a focal point of Leonard’s postseason plan.

Second, the defense contained Shannon Gilroy, the nation’s leading goal-scorer who averages over four goals per game, to three tallies.

Finally, and most importantly, the Cats maintained their aggressiveness and intensity for a full 60 minutes, or, in this case, 66. Last-minute runs and early-game leads weren’t going to cut it this time, so NU stepped up competitively.

Finally being able to put those three elements together successfully made the win that much more special for NU.

“Florida is such an unbelievable team, obviously they’ve tested us greatly this season and beat us twice… It just makes this win pretty special for us,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Offensively, we wanted to be aggressive. We played our best when we were aggressive against them, we just wanted to put that aggressiveness into 60 minutes of good lacrosse.”

The teams’ third meeting this season saw both teams trade runs throughout the game. The first three streaks, two from the Gators with one from the Wildcats in between, saw four interrupted goals a side. NU’s last run took the score from an 8-5 Florida lead to a 10-9 NU advantage with 9:15 left in the game, when the Gators tied the game at 10 apiece.

After Florida’s Lauren Lea, who notched a pair Saturday, and senior Kat DeRonda, who scored a hat trick, traded goals the game was tied at 11-11. NU had the ball last in regulation, but couldn’t get a shot away to stave off overtime.

Then, with 16 seconds left in the second three-minute session, DeRonda took a pass from junior attack Kara Mupo, drove to the goal from Florida goalie Cara Canington’s left side, dodged and scored the game-winning shot. Canington replaced starting goalie Mary-Sean Wilcox, who had played nearly three quarters of the game before being switched out after senior Kate Macdonald’s second goal of the day.

Both DeRonda and Leonard credited the offense’s movement against Florida in creating the open opportunities that had often evaded NU in the two previous losses.

“We moved the ball really well the whole game, I thought that really showed in the last few seconds of overtime,” DeRonda said. “We all trust each other a lot, we’ve played together for a while, and I think just moving the ball and being unselfish has made this team be successful. I just happened to be there, it could have been anyone.”

That movement translated to efficiency on the field, which made up for execution which was lacking elsewhere. The Gators shot 25 times to the Cats’ 18, picked up 24 ground balls to the Cats’ 16 and turned the ball over only nine times against 14 giveaways from NU.

But Leonard stepped up where it counted, nabbing 16 draw controls to Florida’s 11, with the senior crediting her teammates on the circle with coming up with possessions. The Cats also capitalized on four of five free position shots. The Gators only scored on one of their three 8-meter chances.

NU plays Maryland on Friday for a chance to advance to the NCAA championship game May 25 against the winner of No. 6 Virginia and No. 2 Syracuse. Amonte Hiller holds a 4-1 record against her alma mater, who themselves boast a sterling 21-1 record on the season.

Despite the disparity in record, Amonte Hiller said her team has now proven itself when it counts.

“I’m really proud of this team this year,” Amonte Hiller said. “A lot of people had counted them out, and I’m just really proud of the way that they displayed their talent on the field today. That Florida team is a very, very good team. We’re capable of competing with anyone, and we’ve shown that. We’re very excited to have the opportunity to play another day.”

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