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LI talent helps power Northwestern to top

Northwestern's Shannon Smith, Jessica Russo and Erin Fitzgerald,

Northwestern's Shannon Smith, Jessica Russo and Erin Fitzgerald, left to right, celebrate a goal against Maryland in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse semifinal at Stony Brook University. (May 25, 2012) Credit: Kathleen Malone-Van Dyke

Northwestern, a space traveler that has bombed the rest of women's college lacrosse back to the Orville and Wilbur days of flight, Sunday night will attempt to bring a seventh national championship in for a landing against Syracuse at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.

The title game appearance is Northwestern's eight consecutive, dating to 2005, and its only loss was to the sport's other perennial powerhouse, Maryland, in 2010. Northwestern (20-2 this season) eliminated Maryland, 9-7, in Friday's late semifinal after Syracuse (19-3), upset top-ranked Florida in double overtime, 14-13.

Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, at the helm for all of Northwestern's championships, contended after Friday's game that the presence of Syracuse and Florida in the season's final weekend was "great for our game, to have lot of different people in the Final Four, new people. And I think it will only get stronger as the game spreads more and more over the next 10 years.

"Hopefully our team has been an inspiration for different teams across the country that aren't traditional powerhouses."

Meanwhile, though, Northwestern does not appear ready to stop inspiring. Nor does it appear likely to veer away from mining Long Island for its depth of talent. Four Long Island seniors who will be playing their last games for Northwestern Sunday night -- goalie Biranne LoManto from Rocky Point High, attackers Shannon Smith (West Babylon) and Jessica Russo (St. Anthony's) and defender/midfielder Lacey Vigmostad -- again made significant contributions in Friday's victory.

Smith, the 2011 national player of the year who scored four goals in last year's title victory over Maryland, took only one shot Friday night, but her four assists were the trigger for Northwestern's patient offense, which got two goals from Russo and one from Vigmostad that put Northwestern ahead to stay at 7-6 with 18:01 left.

LoManto had to make only five saves against Maryland, but two of those were point-blank stops against Katie Schwarzmann and Kristy Black to shut Maryland out during the game's final 13:37.

Not that Northwestern has cornered the market on Long Island skill. West Babylon sophomore Alyssa Murray had three goals and an assist -- all in the second half -- in Syracuse's rally from a seven-goal deficit against Florida, and West Islip sophomore Alyssa Constantino, who played the first half against Florida, is Syracuse's No. 1 goalie.

"Being my last year here, and being in my hometown," Northwestern's Smith said, "it's pretty exciting to be able to play a national championship on Long Island, in front of friends and family. But I think, for this team in general, we've come so far."

Something like going to the moon. While others try to follow.

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