Northwestern, loaded with LI talent, wins NCAA women's lax title

Northwestern celebrates their 8-6 win over Syracuse for Northwestern celebrates their 8-6 win over Syracuse for the NCAA Division I Women's Lacrosse National Championship. (May 27, 2012) Photo Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

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Long Island won again in NCAA women's lacrosse Sunday night. It cannot be ignored that the victorious team, Northwestern University, in fact is based in suburban Chicago. But Northwestern's 8-6 victory over Syracuse in the championship game again was a showpiece for Long Island's bottomless sack of talent.

As soon as West Babylon senior Shannon Smith emerged from the shadow defense of Syracuse senior Janelle Stegeland, the familiar Northwestern bulldozer began to build speed toward its second straight national title and seventh in eight years.

Northwestern (21-2) built on coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's record number of tournament wins, now 32, in Division I women's lacrosse.

Syracuse (19-4) was playing its first NCAA final and, in a way, Long Island couldn't lose, with Syracuse sophomore goalie Alyssa Costantino hailing from West Islip and sophomore Alyssa Murray, the team's leading scorer, from West Babylon. And with all of them performing in the second consecutive Final Four staged at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium, this time before a crowd of 7,127.

But it was Smith, her school's career scoring leader and de facto quarterback, who began to seize control just past the halfway mark of the first half.

Down 3-1, Smith set up Mount Sinai's Erin Fitzgerald with a pinpoint assist and, after a goal by junior Amanda Macaluso (Smithtown, Hauppauge High) from the free position, Smith assisted freshman Casey Bocklet to tie the score at 4 and added two of her own goals -- one on each side of halftime, for a 6-4 Northwestern lead.

In a way, it was a more complete performance than Smith's four goals in last year's title victory over Maryland.

"Right now, I'm on cloud nine," she said, "and it won't really hit me until September and I'm not going back to Northwestern to be with these girls. To end my career, where I started, back here on Long Island, not many people get to do that."

Syracuse still had more than a shred of hope. A Murray score and another by junior Michelle Tumolo produced another tie at 6.

But junior Taylor Thornton -- not a Long Islander; she's from Dallas -- scored with 9:56 left and Fitzgerald added another with 5:41 to go for the final 8-6 Northwestern lead.

From the start, Syracuse threatened to pull the tablecloth from under the dishes that were set for yet another Northwestern title feast. Ahead 3-1 early, Syracuse was blunting Northwestern's attack mostly by keeping the ball away from Smith.

"Defensively, we just wanted to keep it out of her hands," Stegeland said. "She wants to set up behind and get it to the other players. We wanted to work together and try to take her out of her game. We really worked hard, but she's a great player."

But it didn't last. And Northwestern had all those local women doing their various chores. Bay Shore sophomore Alyssa Leonard, who almost accepted a volleyball scholarship, repeatedly used her leaping ability to control draws for Northwestern and Rocky Point senior Brianne LoManto made four saves, the last with just 15 seconds left.

Smith and Fitzgerald each had two goals, Macaluso one and St. Anthony's senior Jessica Russo one.

P.S.: Northwestern recently signed West Babylon senior Christina Esposito, one of the top players on Long Island, to a letter of intent.

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