When it comes to women's lacrosse, Northwestern University has become part of the Long Island scenery. No fewer than nine Northwestern players, defending their national title in this weekend's Final Four at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium, are from the Island.
That includes Northwestern's top three scorers in this 19-2 season: West Babylon's Shannon Smith (64 goals), Mount Sinai's Erin Fitzgerald (53) and Miller Place's Kara Mupo (32), who played at Rocky Point High. When Northwestern edged Maryland in last year's championship game -- also a virtual home game at Stony Brook -- all eight Northwestern goals were scored by Long Island products.
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Naturally, the team's goalie, then as now, is another: Rocky Point grad Brianne LoManto.
What this means is that, for Friday night's semifinal matching second-ranked Northwestern against No. 3 Maryland, there will be an unusually neighborly mood for a college team based in the Chicago suburbs. Northwestern ticket manager Jake Owens said that each player is allowed up to six free game passes for family or friends, and the list filled quickly.
"I remember last year, I had, like, 20 of my friends right behind the cage, all with shirts with my name on them," said sophomore defender Alyssa Leonard of Bay Shore. "All of my family was here, my sister had a whole bunch of her teammates. It's awesome to look up and see all the support we're getting."
It fuels the friendly harassment the Long Islanders give their teammates from another of lacrosse's hothouses, Massachusetts. There are eight players from that commonwealth -- not counting coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
"Best place in America is Long Island," is how the Long Islanders' side of the argument goes, according to Smith. (With the predictable echo, "No, it's Massachusetts.") "We go back and forth," said Smith, the 2011 college player of the year, "with Giants football and the Patriots, you know."
And, meanwhile, the Long Island players are reminded what they miss about home. "Pizza," Fitzgerald said. "Bagels."
Not that any of the Long Islanders are straying from the party line that this is a business trip. "They can come home any time they want and hang out with their friends and parents," Amonte Hiller said. "This is about something bigger, and we're really focused on that. And, really, this is a pinnacle for the team. To bring outside people into what we're doing kind of takes away a little bit of the focus."
Still, the comfort level or geography can't hurt. "We have great fanfare here on Long Island," said Amonte Hiller (whose husband and volunteer assistant, Scott, hails from Garden City). "We did last year and hope that will happen again."