For the last week, Northwestern lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller did her best to get into Kat DeRonda’s head.
Amonte Hiller wanted to encourage the senior from Carthage, N.Y., who had lost her starting attack position in early May and would not start again until Saturday’s NCAA tournament quarterfinal at Florida.
“I talked with Kat about the importance of rising to the occasion and using her ability to do some damage,” Amonte Hiller said.
“We worked a lot on making sure she was a threat. We felt like she could be very dangerous.”
DeRonda embodied her coach’s assessment by scoring three goals in the final 17 minutes of the game, including the winner with 15.8 seconds left in the second overtime, as the No. 5 Wildcats earned a 10th straight Final Four appearance with a 12-11 upset of No. 4 Florida.
The Wildcats (14-6), winners of seven NCAA titles in the last nine years, meet No. 1 Maryland (21-1) in Friday’s semifinals at Towson, Md. No. 2 Syracuse (20-2) faces No. 6 Virginia (12-8), which Saturday ousted No. 3 North Carolina, the defending champion.
Northwestern had two one-goal losses to the Gators (18-3) at Evanston in the last month.
“We weren’t ready to be done yet,” said senior Alyssa Leonard, who also had three goals.
In beating Florida for the first time in four meetings in Gainesville, Fla., the Wildcats rallied from three-goal deficits in both halves of a game with seven lead changes and six ties.
Leonard’s dominance of draw controls spurred the comebacks, the second from 8-5 with 20 minutes to play. DeRonda scored on a penalty shot to forge the final tie with 4:51 left in regulation.
The winner came after a pass from Kara Mupo allowed DeRonda to get a step on her defender for a left-handed shot and her 35th goal of the season.
“We moved the ball well the whole game and that really showed the last few seconds of overtime,” DeRonda said.