The two traded national titles the last two years, but this time, defending champion Northwestern earned only a trip to the title game by slipping past the Terrapins, 9-7, in the semifinal.
Taylor Thornton, one of five finalists for the Tewaaraton Award , scored the eventual game winner to give No. 2 Northwestern an 8-6 lead with 16:19 to go and added an insurance goal with 1:26 left.
Shannon Smith, the 2011 Tewaaraton winner, who had four goals in last year’s 8-7 title-game win over the Terrapins, didn’t score a goal but dished out four assists. Wildcats goalie Brianne LoManto made only five saves but made point-blank stops against Terps attackers Kristy Black and Katie Schwarzmann to help hold Maryland scoreless for the final 13:37.
The No. 3 Terrapins (19-4) got off to a quick start but struggled with possession during the second half, especially in a key stretch when the Wildcats scored four straight times. Northwestern dominated the draws in the second half winning seven of eight and finished with 13 of 18.
“Draws were really important,” Schwarzmann said, “and credit to Northwestern. They did a great job coming up with those and really maintinaing possession when they had the ball. We tried to fight for those and we could have done a better job obviously, but when we had possession, we had a few too many turnovers and just couldn’t do what we needed to do.”
Northwestern (20-2) will meet No. 4 Syracuse for the national championship Sunday at 8 p.m. at LaValle Stadium. The Orange earned its first appearance in the final with an upset of No. 1 Florida in Friday night’s other semifinal, rallying from seven goals down to win 14-13 in double overtime.
The Wildcats, who resurrected their program in 2002 after nine years of club status, will be aiming for their seventh title in eight years against a Syracuse team they edged 11-9 in overtime early in the season.
The two most successful teams in NCAA women’s lacrosse history have met three straight times on Memorial Day weekend with the Terps winning the 2010 title and the Wildcats taking the title back last season. Between them, they have won 15 of the last 20 Division I titles. Maryland has 10 titles overall, including seven in a row.
The teams were tied at every point Friday until Maryland took a 6-4 lead on Schwarzmann’s free-position goal. The Wildcats never lost their poise.
“We’ve been in that position so many times this year,” Smith said, “I knew it was going to come down to getting the draw control. We were running fine on offense. We were patient, looking for the open cutter. Every person that was in on the offense did a phenomenal job with cutting, keeping their defenders busy and allowing our offense to move.”
The Wildcats quickly turned the momentum and scored four straight times, the biggest run of the game. Smith fed Kara Mupo, Amanda Macaluso scored a free-position goal, Smith fed Lacey Vigmostad and Thorton made it an 8-6 lead on an unassisted goal.
Schwarzmann, also a Tewaaraton finalist, brought the Terps within one on a free-position goal with 13:37 to go.
Maryland had an excellent chance to tie when Kelly McPartland, on a free-position, opted to pass to Kristy Black rather than shoot. Black, open on the left side of the crease, had the angle but LoManto made the point-black stop with 11:53 to go and made another against Schwarzmann with 6:53 to go.
“One of the things I’ve learned throughout 10 years of playing goal is it’s not how many saves you have in a game sometimes, it’s when you have the saves,” LoManto said. “We all want to make a lot of saves and, of course, you may not make every save you want, so you try to stay patient and confident and try to make those big saves.”
The Terps had enough trouble getting possesion, but they hurt themselves when they had to play two players down for two minutes, starting at the 4:34 mark after yellow cards on McPartland and on the Maryland bench. That helped the Wildcats scored their last goal and run out most of the rest of the time.
Northwestern 4 5 -- 9
Maryland 5 2 -- 7
Goals: N—Russo 2, Thornton 2, Fitzgerald, Macaluso, Frank, Vimostad, Mupo; M—Schwarmann 3, Johnson, McPartland, Griffin, Black. Assists: N—Smith 4; M—Black 2. Saves: N—LoManto 5; M—Dipper 5.