Northwestern Edges Maryland to Reclaim Crown

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Northwestern brought home its sixth NCAA championship in the last seven years Sunday with a gut-wrenching 8-7 victory over top-seeded Maryland and did so with its most complete team effort of the 2011 season. NU shut down the nation's fourth-leading offense, keeping Maryland to two second-half goals, while also coming back from an early 4-1 deficit thanks to four goals by tournament MVP Shannon Smith.

In a back-and-forth first half, Maryland scored four goals in a span of 1:34 but was held in check to the tune of only one goal in the remaining 28:26 of the first 30 minutes as the game went to halftime tied at five. But unlike the 2010 title game matchup between these teams, NU overwhelmingly controlled the pace of the game in the second half, taking the lead for good at the 15:23 mark and controlling possession for the final quarter of the game.

Photos of the game are by Rich Barnes.

"This was a culmination of a lot of hard work, a lot of evaluating of ourselves, from our lowest moment, to our loss to Johns Hopkins and at Florida midseason to just gutting it out and winning games from small amounts all season," said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, now 28-2 in her career in the NCAA Championship. "It prepared us for this moment and our girls could not have played more focused or more poised."

Smith took home MVP honors thanks to her 18 goals in four games, second all-time for a single tournament behind only Katrina Dowd's 22 in 2009. Earning All-Tournament team honors for the Wildcats were Erin Fitzgerald, Taylor Thornton, Colleen Magarity and Brianne LoManto.

Northwestern's defensive effort was due in part to the play of freshman Kerri Harrington, who made her first career start and was tasked with shutting down Maryland Tewaaraton finalist Sarah Mollison. Harrington hounded the Terp senior all game and caused Mollison to break her streak of 67 consecutive games with a point come to an end.

Junior and Long Island native Brianne LoManto was on top of her game in the net, particularly in the second half when she had saves on free positions, breakaways and point-blank Maryland shots. She finished with eight in the game to raise her career total to 317, fourth all-time at NU. One of LoManto's biggest saves came with 1:36 remaining on a one-on-one breakaway for Mollison.

"Freaking out isn't really an option when you're playing goalie when you have two seconds and the ball is there," LoManto said. "I've been watching a decent amount of film so I knew she liked to go high a lot. Because she had a full head of steam when she came down I figured she was going to shoot high there and I made the save."

LoManto was part of a contingent of Long Island-bred Wildcats who shined playing on their home turf on Sunday. All eight Northwestern goals against Maryland were scored by Long Island natives: four by Smith, two by freshman Kara Mupo and one each by sophomore Erin Fitzgerald and junior Jessica Russo.

"I think it just makes it all that much more special for us," Smith said of winning a national championship so close to home. "Especially playing in front of your friends and family where they don't normally get to see you, but I think overall this is a very special moment for us on this team, the 29 of us worked extremely hard. We had some ups and downs and turns in our season, but I think we faced the adversity and overcame everything that was thrown at us."

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