Wildcats Win Women's Title

By Jon Gallo
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 23, 2005

The Northwestern women's lacrosse players tossed their sticks into the air as soon as the final whistle signaled a moment that changed the sport's landscape: A school that did not have a varsity team five years ago became the first from outside the Eastern time zone to win an NCAA title.

Northwestern's players hugged near midfield after their 13-10 victory over defending champion Virginia in the NCAA Division I final to cap an undefeated season yesterday at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis.

"It was amazing knowing that in the last four seasons we've worked our play all the way from the bottom to the absolute top," said Northwestern senior attacker Sarah Albrecht. "We came from nothing and won a championship after it had always been won by teams on the East Coast. It's been just an incredible story."

Northwestern concluded its improbable tale before a crowd of 4,634, but wrote its first chapter in 2000. That's when Northwestern hired Kelly Amonte Hiller, a former standout at the University of Maryland, and reinstated the sport to varsity status in 2002 after eliminating the program in 1992 for budget reasons after 10 seasons.

But just three years after a squad of 15 freshmen and four sophomores went 5-10, the top-ranked Wildcats became the school's first women's team to win a national title. Northwestern (21-0), which has been fielding sports teams since the late 19th century, began yesterday with just one national championship -- men's fencing in 1941.

"I remember when we were freshmen our coach told us that by the time we were seniors, we were going to win a national championship," said senior attacker Sarah Walsh, who played in high school at St. Mary's-Annapolis. "And now here we are and that dream has come true."

The scoring started fewer than two minutes into the game when Virginia senior midfielder Cary Chasney scored the first of her six goals, which tied the record for a Division I national championship game. Her goal off an assist by senior attacker Amy Appelt also sparked what equaled the second highest-scoring half in a Division I women's lacrosse final.

Neither team was able to go ahead by more than one goal in the game's first 30 minutes, as Northwestern sophomore midfielder Kristen Kjellman scored four goals in the game's first 16 minutes 40 seconds -- she would have had five if one of her shots hadn't clanged off the post. The fourth and final lead change of the first half occurred when sophomore midfielder Kristen Boege's goal with 58 seconds left gave Northwestern an 8-7 lead at intermission -- but only after referees waved off a goal by Virginia's Tyler Leachman (Holton-Arms) after the shot crossed the goal line a split-second after time expired.

The 15 goals equaled the number scored by Maryland and Georgetown in the 2001 championship game, two shy of the record of 17 goals for a half -- set in the 2000 final when Maryland outscored Princeton 13-4 in the final 30 minutes.

The scoring output wasn't that unexpected, considering Northwestern and Virginia (17-5) boast two of the country's most potent offenses. The Wildcats entered the final four leading Division I with an average of 15.5 goals per game, with the Cavaliers eighth with 12.9.

But the game turned in the second half largely because Northwestern's defense, which had allowed a Division I-low 5.79 goals per game, was able to contain the Cavaliers, holding them scoreless for nearly 14 minutes in the second half.

After Northwestern opened the second half by scoring the first three goals -- including two by Albrecht -- Virginia pulled within 11-8 on Chasney's goal with 15:50 remaining. But after Northwestern junior midfielder Lindsey Munday (one goal, three assists) answered with 12:05 remaining, Kjellman (five goals) won the draw and the Wildcats went to their stall offense by passing the ball around the perimeter, content to take time off the clock.

Virginia ran out of patience. The Cavaliers became aggressive and tried to double- and triple-team the ball carrier. But Northwestern's players were able to find an open teammate, which led to Aly Josephs's shot into the upper right-hand corner of the net, capping a 7-minute, 12-second possession.

"We didn't play a complete game for 60 minutes," Virginia Coach Julie Myers said. "They caught us off-guard when they held the ball for as long as they did. We just didn't get much possession in the second half."

Leachman scored with 1:44 remaining before Chasney scored her sixth goal of the game 15 seconds later, which tied her for the national record first set by Georgetown's Erin Elbe in 2001. But Virginia couldn't pull any closer.

"We've dreamed about this for four years," said Northwestern senior goalie Ashley Gersuk, who made eight saves. "So it's going to take some time for it to sink in."

© 2005 The Washington Post Company