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Power of the Purple

Northwestern's winning women dominate during another championship spring.


Northwestern women's lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller consistently shunned the term "dynasty" after the Wildcats won their second and third national titles. But since Northwestern won its fourth consecutive championship, it's a word she's become a bit more comfortable with.

"I'm not going to call ourselves a dynasty," said Amonte Hiller, following the title game in Towson, Md., "but if you want to, I'm okay with it."

Northwestern closed a stellar 21-1 season with a 10-6 win over the University of Pennsylvania, avenging the Wildcats' lone loss, an 11-7 defeat to the Quakers on the last day of the regular season.

Team captain Christy Finch (C08) believes the loss to Penn served a purpose. "That loss helped us become the team we wanted to be," says Finch, who graduated with only three defeats in her entire collegiate career.

During Northwestern's first three title runs, all eyes were focused on the offense. This season, however, Finch became the star attraction as she overpowered nearly every opponent who came near her.

"We encouraged her to be extremely aggressive," Amonte Hiller said of Finch, who converted to defense her sophomore season. "She was so clutch under pressure, challenging attackers and coming up with more caused turnovers than anyone."

A two-time Defender of the Year, Finch accumulated an NCAA-best 70 caused turnovers and earned a spot beside four potent goal scorers as a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, which honors the best women's lacrosse player.

Finch's teammate, then-junior Hannah Nielsen (see "Aussie Leads Wildcat Attack," summer 2008), actually won the Tewaaraton. She recorded 51 goals and 63 assists, becoming the first Wildcat to notch back-to-back 100-point seasons. Also, with one season left, she already tops Northwestern's list for career assists.

Hilary Bowen, now a senior, capitalized on Nielsen's assists as she set a Northwestern single-season record with 81 goals scored. With 17 goals in the postseason, including three goals in the title game, Bowen earned her second NCAA Championship MVP award.

Amonte Hiller's squads have now won 23 consecutive American Lacrosse Conference matches, six straight ALC championships and 16 consecutive NCAA Tournament games. With all but two starters returning from this latest championship squad, Amonte Hiller might hear that word — dynasty — again.

"We'll stretch this out as long as we can," Amonte Hiller said. "The key is to stay a step ahead. If we stay innovative and keep our opponents guessing, hopefully we'll keep walking away with the trophy."

— Ryan Morton (J08)

Tennis Serves Up Season of Dominance

The women's tennis team came into the 2008 season favored to win a record-setting 10th Big Ten Conference championship, but the Wildcats, winners of nine straight conference titles, exceeded even those expectations and earned the nation's top ranking for much of the spring.

Northwestern claimed its first-ever No. 1 ranking Feb. 26 and held onto it into the NCAA Championships. During that stretch they notched 23 straight victories. The Wildcats finished the season second in the Intercollegiate Tennis Association rankings, one point behind the national champs from the University of California, Los Angeles.

Women's tennis coach Claire Pollard, the 2008 Big Ten Coach of the Year, filled the Wildcats' schedule with difficult opponents, as Northwestern played, and defeated, eight top-15 teams. Meanwhile, the Wildcats cruised to another undefeated conference season, including a run through the Big Ten Tournament.

"It takes a lot to win a championship every year, and I'm proud that we've set the bar in the Big Ten," said Pollard, the Wilson/ITA National Coach of the Year. "But the reality is I'm much more focused on national success now."

Despite a program-record 29 wins and 15 shutouts, Northwestern was eliminated in the NCAA quarterfinals by the No. 8 seed, the University of California, Berkeley. Reaching the round of eight tied the Wildcats' previous best finish, most recently achieved in 2006.

Although they missed out on a national title this season, the Wildcats are poised for another run, as a majority of the squad returns in 2008–09. "This season solidified our place as one of the better programs in the country," Pollard said. "It's a slow climb once you get toward the top, and we're taking baby steps. But overall I'm pleased."

— Ryan Morton (J08)

Young Softball Squad Tastes Success

Forty wins and a Big Ten Conference championship — it's just another season of Northwestern softball.

Led by one of the Big Ten's top offensive threats in junior shortstop Tammy Williams and a strikeout machine in sophomore pitcher Lauren Delaney, the Wildcats enjoyed their fourth consecutive 40-win season, and they don't look like they'll be going away anytime soon — 12 of the 17 players on the opening-day roster were freshmen or sophomores.

In May the Wildcats clinched their second regular season conference title in the past three seasons, then swept their way to the conference tournament championship. The 'Cats' season came to a close in the NCAA Super Regional against the eventual national champs from Arizona State University, but Northwestern's season was anything but disappointing.

The Wildcats swept the Big Ten Player and Pitcher of the Year awards for the third straight year, picking up where former Wildcat first baseman Garland Cooper (C07) and pitcher Eileen Canney (SESP07) left off. (Cooper won three straight Player of the Year honors, and Canney claimed the pitching award in back-to-back seasons.) Williams led the conference with 21 runs scored and ranked second in batting average, RBIs and on-base percentage. Delaney earned wins in all 18 of Northwestern's conference victories and led the league in strikeouts.

With only one senior, infielder Darcy Sengewald (SESP08), and four juniors on the 2008 roster, Delaney says the team has potential. Six of the eight players who picked up All-Big Ten accolades were underclassmen.

Despite the squad's relative inexperience, it managed to finish the season among the nation's top 16 teams for the fourth season in a row.

Still, the Wildcats fell short of their goal: a third-straight trip to the Women's College World Series. "One of the biggest things we learned to take into next season is how bad it feels to lose before the World Series, even if it was to the eventual champions," Delaney says. "But it gives us even more motivation for next year."

— Marcelino Benito (J10)

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Then-sophomore midfielder Danielle Spencer eludes a University of Pennsylvania defender in the National Championship game. Spencer emerged as a scoring threat in 2008, with 59 goals on the season.Courtesy of Northwestern Athletic Media Services
Georgia Rose battles Fresno State University's Anastasia Petukhova at No. 2 singles during the NCAA Championships in Tulsa.Courtesy of Northwestern Athletic Media Services
Catcher Erin Dyer smashes the game-winning home run during the Wildcats 1-0 win over the University of Iowa in the Big Ten Championship at Sharon J. Drysdale Field.Courtesy of Northwestern Athletic Media Services