Lacrosse: Northwestern and Maryland to meet for third time this season in semifinal showdown


Daily file photo by Alison Albelda

Megan Kinna evades a defender. The junior and the Wildcats will look for another win over top-ranked Maryland in the national semifinals Friday.

Ella Brockway, Sports Editor


On a spring night in May 2014, Kelly Amonte Hiller stood on the sidelines at Towson’s Johnny Unitas Stadium and watched as Maryland ran out the clock to beat Northwestern — at that point winners of seven of the last nine national championships — in that year’s NCAA Tournament semifinal.

After back-to-back losses in the Final Four, the Wildcats had been officially dethroned. The Terrapins — who would win the title two days later and follow it up with two more championships in the next four seasons — had claimed the crown.

Almost exactly five years to the day later, and on a field less than five miles away from where that 2014 game was played, NU has a chance to take it back.

The No. 4 Cats (16-4) will face off against No. 1 Maryland (20-1) in Friday’s national semifinal, the third time the teams have matched up this season and the next installment in a rivalry that until this year had been dominated by the team in red.

“All four teams in the Final Four are tremendous and every game is going to be a battle,” Amonte Hiller said in a Monday media teleconference. “We’re excited about it. We feel like we match up well against Maryland and we’re going to give it our best effort.”

The Terrapins and NU split their two games this season, with Maryland winning the regular-season matchup 17-13 in April and the Cats claiming a 16-11 upset victory in the May 5 Big Ten Tournament Final at Johns Hopkins’ Homewood Field in Baltimore — the location of this weekend’s Final Four.

Despite the loss to NU right before the NCAA Tournament bracket was unveiled, Maryland’s resume stood out enough to earn the No. 1 overall seed for the seventh straight year. The Terrapins earned wins over the Cats, Syracuse and North Carolina — the latter two in overtime — in the regular season, and were No. 1 in RPI.

For an upset on Friday, the Cats will have to shut down Maryland’s Tewaaraton finalist midfielder Jen Giles. The senior has a team-high 76 points this season, and averages 3.6 goals per game.

However, Giles was held scoreless in the Big Ten Tournament final and was face-guarded for nearly all of the two matchups between the teams earlier this season, a testament to the Cats’ improved defense and a strategy that they’ll likely employ again Friday.

“Midway through March, maybe, we really buckled down and focused on getting better defensively just for the fundamentals every single day,” Amonte Hiller said. “It’s allowed us to keep players like Jen Giles at bay. Our offense obviously gets a lot of attention because we score a lot of goals. But our defense has been a really bright spot for us this season and really elevated us to this next level.”

Maryland is likely to counter on the opposite end of the field by face-guarding NU senior star attacker Selena Lasota, who averages the third-most goals per game in the nation and was named a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award earlier this month.

“Their offense is just really talented, putting up crazy goals, all crazy numbers all year long, and I don’t know that Lasota is ever (the) kind of player that you’re going to shut out or even limit.” Maryland coach Cathy Reese said Monday. “Our focus is on playing good team defense because they have a team too where anyone on the field can score.”

NU may have an advantage in one category: the circle. The Cats won the draw controls battle in both of the previous matchups, and Maryland averages only 14.86 draw wins a game compared to NU’s 17.10. That high number is due to the improved play of sophomore midfielder Brennan Dwyer, who has developed into one of the country’s top draw specialists.

Amonte Hiller attributed Dwyer’s growth to the level of competition in the circle the Cats have faced each week, and to the fact that she practices every day against two of the top draw-control specialists in women’s lacrosse history, in assistant coach Hannah Murphy and NU star-turned-graduate assistant Shelby Fredericks.

“We play the schedule we play and she probably goes up against every one of the top draw people in the country — Notre Dame, Syracuse, Boston College, Maryland, UNC, you name it,” Amonte Hiller said. “When you do that and then you’re facing it in practice as well, you can’t help but get better every day.”

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