There are few turnarounds in sports as stunning as what the Northwestern women's lacrosse team pulled off Sunday.
Two weeks after Florida had dealt the Wildcats a 22-4 defeat, the worst loss in Kelly Amonte Hiller's 12 seasons as head coach, NU executed a ball-control plan to perfection and beat the Gators 8-3 in Sunday's American Lacrosse Conference tournament final in Baltimore.
“Our defense really helped our offense,” Amonte Hiller said. “We talked a lot about how we have to help them back by having good possessions, getting some of our midfielders rest and waiting for quality shots.”
That led to a 23-goal swing with some other numbers that were equally remarkable:
The No. 4 Wildcats (17-2) held the No. 2 Gators, the third-highest scoring team in Division I, to the fewest goals they have scored in the program's four-season history.
By winning 10 of 13 draws, seven by Alyssa Leonard, and exercising patience on offense, Northwestern possessed the ball about 90 percent of the game. “The last time we played them was humbling,” Leonard said. “We realized you can't just come out and expect it to happen. We had to will it to happen. There was a laser focus.”
Florida (17-2) was left with little to do but foul, which it did 27 times to Northwestern's 14.
Northwestern outshot Florida 24-9. Junior Kat DeRonda scored three times, matching her single-game career high, after coming into the game with just seven goals all season. DeRonda also had an assist.
Sophomore goalie Bridget Bianco, totally ineffective in the first Florida game, made three big saves and scooped up a ground ball late in the game to kill one of the Gators' few possessions.
The victory assured Northwestern will have home field advantage in the first two rounds of the NCAA tournament as it seeks an eighth title in nine seasons.
The defending champion Wildcats got the second seed in the tournament, expanded from 16 to 26 teams, and will meet the Notre Dame-Stanford winner next Sunday in Evanston. This season, Northwestern has beaten both the Irish and Cardinal, who play Friday in Evanston.
Unbeaten Maryland got the top seed, with North Carolina No. 3 and Syracuse No. 4. Florida dropped to the fifth seed, primarily because the Gators played a relatively weak schedule.
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