Defending champ Northwestern faces Dartmouth in final

From The Cover

Women's college lacrosse

May 28, 2006|By MIKE SCANDURA | MIKE SCANDURA,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

BOSTON -- Dartmouth coach Amy Patton had a wealth of tourist attractions for the Big Green to visit after it played at Harvard on April 19. But Patton eschewed the Boston Museum of Science, the Faneuil Hall Marketplace and the Freedom Trail for a trip to Boston University's Nickerson Field.

In retrospect, Patton knew what she was doing: psyching her team for a second consecutive trip to the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinals.

Dartmouth faces defending champion Northwestern at noon today. The Wildcats beat the Big Green, 8-4, in a 2005 NCAA semifinal game at Navy.

"I took one from the Maryland women's basketball coach," Patton said of Brenda Frese, who led the Terrapins to the NCAA Division I title at the TD Banknorth Garden.

"I heard she was taking her team to the Garden in midseason to look at the place as an incentive to get there. We were at a tough time in our season and kind of making our way back. I thought we should look at this field after our Harvard game [an 11-5 win].

"I remember looking in the kids' eyes and saying, `We can do this. We can get here.' It was at a time where it was pretty critical for us to make a turn with Princeton and other tough teams coming up at the end of the season."

Consider the message delivered.

After cruising past Boston University and edging Princeton in overtime, Dartmouth (14-5) defeated Notre Dame, 14-8, on Friday to earn a championship date with a Northwestern team that's probably playing its best lacrosse of the season.

The Wildcats are 9-0 since losing to Duke on April 7. But Northwestern (19-1) outlasted the Blue Devils, 11-10, in double overtime in Friday's other semifinal.

"We were in Boston and were struggling to get back on track," senior Kristen Zimmer said. "Everyone came here and looked at the field. We were in the final four last year. Just looking at it and knowing we could get here helped."

According to Patton, Dartmouth committed to the point where it blotted out all distractions -- including each opponent.

"I think we're going into the game focusing on us," Patton said. "We don't focus on our opponent. I think last year we may have focused too much on them. Northwestern definitely is a strong program. They were national champs last year. But it's not something we talk about as a team.

"There's been a lot in the press. `Is Northwestern going to get back? Are they strong?' We as a team don't get wrapped up in that stuff at all."

What the Big Green does get wrapped up in is defense. Through the tournament quarterfinals, Dartmouth led the nation in scoring defense (6.72 goals per game) and caused turnovers (12.89 per game).

"Dartmouth is more of a defensive team, and they've made an excellent run in this tournament," Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte said. "They play hard-nosed defense. They're very tough and well-disciplined. Our game plan will change."

The Wildcats game plan relies on an overwhelming attack that makes life miserable for opposing goalies. Not only does Northwestern tally an average of 16.58 goals per game, but they outscore opponents by more than a 2-to-1 margin.

Leading the way is midfielder Kristen Kjellman with 72 goals and 26 assists. Attacker Aly Josephs (Franklin) contributed 51 goals and eight assists, and attacker Sarah Albrecht had 33 goals and 14 assists, including the winning goal against Duke in overtime.

"I think they have contrasting styles," said Notre Dame coach Tracy Coyne, whose team lost 21-12 to Northwestern. "Dartmouth is very quick off the draw, but their quickness doesn't show up on tape. They also anticipate things well. But Northwestern has an unusual style. If you don't play them very often it's difficult to anticipate some of the things that they do.

"They move the ball really quick, and they have confidence in their passing attack. But I think the Dartmouth goalie is very good."

Patton, a 1988 Maryland alumna, indicated she has a good feeling going into today's final, more so than last season.

"It's a very different feeling coming into a final four for a team when it's your second time," she Patton said. "I feel this group is much more experienced. We're not settling for just getting to the final game. We're playing to win."

Today's game

Division I final

No. 4 Northwestern (19-1) vs. No. 7 Dartmouth (14-5)

Time -- Noon

Site -- Nickerson Field, Boston

Outlook -- Dartmouth has an opportunity to win the first Division I women's lacrosse championship in school history and avenge an 8-4 loss to Northwestern in the 2005 national semifinals. A Big Green win would prevent the Wildcats from becoming only the third team in NCAA women's lacrosse history to repeat as champion. Dartmouth also can silence critics who felt Northwestern and Duke should have been in opposite brackets so they could meet in the final instead of the semifinals. The Blue Devils stretched the Wildcats to the limit in the semifinal round before Northwestern won, 11-10, in double overtime on Sarah Albrecht's goal. Dartmouth boasts the nation's stingiest defense, and the Wildcats counter with the most potent offense.

Mike Scandura

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