Following one of the most dominating campaigns in women's lacrosse history, a season in which Northwestern tore through the record books at an astonishing pace, the Wildcats' drive for five titles appeared straightforward on paper.
But it wasn't that easy.
After bulldozing through the first two rounds of the NCAA women's lacrosse tournament, Northwestern faced a familiar foe in its semifinal contest. The University of Pennsylvania, Northwestern's opponent in the 2008 national championship game and the only team to defeat the Wildcats in the last two years, stood between Northwestern and its fifth consecutive national title game. As usual, the Wildcats and the Quakers did not disappoint.
In the final 6Â½ minutes of regulation, the Wildcats lost their four-goal lead and found themselves heading into overtime for the first time in two years. Eleven seconds before the end of the first half of overtime, the Quakers netted a goal. However, the Wildcats, who had never trailed after halftime all year, did not let up. After winning the ensuing draw, Hannah Nielsen (SESP09) dashed down the sideline and chucked a pass to Katrina Dowd, who fired a shot. Penn goalkeeper Emily Szelest blocked Dowd's shot, but Dowd recovered the rebound for one last attempt. Falling to the ground, Dowd put up a behind-the-back shot with .2 seconds on the clock. The ball went in, and the score was knotted once again.
Video: Katrina Dowd's no-look, over-the-shoulder goal. See the frame-by-frame replay of Dowd's goal.
"I couldn't see the cage," said Dowd after the game. "I was on my knees and the ball was on the ground. I knew there wasn't much time left, so I just swung at it and tapped it. Honestly, I had no idea where the ball was going when I shot it. I'm just happy it went into the cage."
Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, a former collegiate and national team star, called it the greatest goal she's ever seen.
The teams went scoreless in the second half of overtime. Eighty-nine seconds into the sudden-death second overtime period, Meredith Frank (WCAS09) blazed through the Quaker defense to score her third goal of the game and send the Wildcats to the national championship game. There, Northwestern proceeded to crush North Carolina 21-7 and capture its fifth consecutive title.
The Wildcats' victory over the Tar Heels capped off one of the best seasons in Northwestern athletic history. The Wildcats began the season as the top-ranked team in the country and never surrendered that ranking. In addition to capturing its sixth consecutive American Lacrosse Conference title, Northwestern finished the season as the top offensive team in Division I history. The team led the nation in scoring offense (17.70 goals per game), scoring margin (10.83 goals per game), draw controls (16.91 per game) and winning percentage (1.000). The Wildcats' 570 points and 407 goals were the most ever by a Division I squad.
In addition to the team accolades, several Wildcats received individual awards. Most notably, Nielsen garnered her second straight Tewaaraton Trophy and Honda Sports Award as the top collegiate female athlete in lacrosse. This is the fourth consecutive year that a Northwestern player has won the Tewaaraton Trophy and the fifth straight year that a Wildcat has received the Lacrosse Honda Sports Award.
Not only did Nielsen, a three-time first-team All-American, lead the nation with 142 points, the midfielder from Adelaide, Australia, set a new national record for assists in a season with 83. She also became the NCAA's Division I all-time assist leader with 224.
Goalie Morgan Lathrop (C09) and attack Hilary Bowen (SESP09) also raked in postseason awards.
Lathrop, a four-year starter between the posts, ended her career as the top goalkeeper in Northwestern history. In addition to setting Northwestern's all-time saves record with 553, the Briarcliff, N.Y., native was named first-team All-American and Goalkeeper of the Year by WomensLax.com and Womenslacrosse.com.
Bowen (see "Goal Oriented: Hilary Bowen," summer 2009), who tore her ACL in a game against the University of California, Berkeley, in April, was thought to be out for the season. However, she returned a little more than a month later to play in Northwestern's final home game, against Princeton University in the NCAA quarterfinals. She scored five goals in the national championship game. Despite missing eight games, Bowen still managed to finish fourth on the team in points (66) and goals (55). She also earned Academic All-American of the Year honors from ESPN the Magazine.
In Bowen's absence, Dowd stepped up as one of the Wildcats' biggest offensive threats. Dowd, who set the NCAA playoff record with 22 goals en route to being named the championship MVP, finished the season as the team leader in goals with 75.
Dowd, now a senior, along with senior All-American Danielle Spencer, will lead the team in its quest for a sixth consecutive national championship in 2010.
"I know we are losing a lot of great players like Hilary, Meredith [Frank] and Hannah," Spencer says. "But we have a lot of talent on this team. I'm sure we're going to have a strong team next year."
BACK IN THE SWING
Youth led the way for coach Pat Goss and the men's golf team in 2009. With only one senior on the team, Northwestern shot its way to a strong spring. Although the 'Cats finished only seventh in the team competition at the Big Ten Championships, Eric Chun became the first freshman to win the individual title in 23 years.
Following the Big Ten Championships, Northwestern made its 24th all-time appearance in NCAA postseason play and its 10th in 13 years under Goss. At the NCAA Regional in Stillwater, Okla., Northwestern jumped four spots after its first day of competition to finish fourth, good enough to qualify for the NCAA Championships at the Inverness Club in Toledo.
Northwestern started strong at the NCAA Championships but slipped over the course of the weekend, finishing 29th out of 30 teams. While Chun finished a team-best 79th with an 11-over 224, then-junior Jonathan Bowers was not far behind with a 12-over 225. Bowers was tied for the lead after firing an opening round 2-under.
Chun, a native of Ansung City, South Korea, garnered Big Ten Freshman of the Year honors. In addition, Chun and then-junior David Lipsky were named Division I PING All-Midwest Region selections. The pair also earned All-Big Ten second-team honors.
UPSETTING FINISH TO STRONG SEASON
One year after getting upset by the University of California, Berkeley, in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament, women's tennis coach Claire Pollard's crew looked to reverse its fortunes this year.
The end to Northwestern's 2009 season proved all too familiar, an unfortunate close to a season that began with the Wildcats starting the season ranked No. 1 in the country for the first time in history. The team successfully defended that ranking in February at the ITA Indoor Team Championships, becoming the first northern school to win the tournament.
The Wildcats stormed through their regular season opponents, losing just one match, to Duke in late February. For the 11th consecutive year, Northwestern concluded the season as the Big Ten Conference champs.
With a record of 25-1, the Wildcats were awarded the top seed in the NCAA tournament. After defeating its first three opponents by a combined score of 12-1, Northwestern once again fell to California in the quarterfinals.
The Wildcats were led all year by then-sophomore Maria Mosolova. En route to winning her second straight Big Ten Player of the Year award, Mosolova went 36-8 in singles play, including a perfect 7-0 in the Big Ten. Mosolova, who hails from Moscow, drew the top seed in the NCAA singles tournament, where she advanced to the quarterfinals. Mosolova finished the year ranked No. 2 and earned her second All-American honor. Georgia Rose (WCAS09) and her doubles partner, then-junior Lauren Lui, also earned All-American honors.
While the Wildcats lost seniors Rose, Nazlie Ghazal (WCAS09) and Keri Robison (WCAS09), the incoming class was recently ranked second in the country.
Robert Levin, a sophomore from Glenview, Ill., is a Northwestern magazine intern and sportswriter for the Daily Northwestern.
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