Same time, every year. Either Northwestern or Maryland -- sometimes both -- seems to play for the national collegiate women's lacrosse championship annually. And that was guaranteed again even before Friday night's 9-7 Northwestern victory over Maryland in the 2012 NCAA semifinals at Stony Brook's LaValle Stadium.
It was the latest high-stakes showdown between second-seeded Northwestern, winner of six national titles, against No. 3 Maryland, 10 times the champ. And the victory put Northwestern in its seventh consecutive title game Sunday night against No. 4 Syracuse, which knocked off top-ranked Florida in the earlier semifinal.
West Babylon's Shannon Smith, Northwestern's career leaders in goals, didn't score, but served up four assists from behind the net while directing her team's offense. St. Anthony's grad Jessica Russo scored two goals, one apiece was added by Mount Sinai's Erin Fitzgerald, Rocky Point's Kara Mupo, Northport's Lacey Vigmostad and Hauppauge's Amanda Macaluso.
For Maryland, Farmingdale's Kelly McPartland scored a goal.
It was a game with a syncopated rhythm, going from galloping end-to-end rushes to deliberate, almost static sets. Only 10 seconds into the game, Maryland's Brooke Griffin broke down the field for the first goal, and each side had scored two goals apiece after fewer than nine minutes.
But, from a tie at 4, the teams went almost 15 full minutes without a score until Maryland's Karri Ellen Johnson, on a nifty pass from Kristy Black, gave Maryland the lead with 39 seconds to go in the half. A major influence in the scoring gap was Maryland goalkeeper Brittany Dipper, who stoned Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton, Northwestern's versatile collegiate player of the year, in the last five minutes of the half.
But, after Maryland took a 6-4 lead three minutes into the second half on a goal by leading scorer Katie Schwarzmann, who finished with three goals, Northwestern reeled off four in a row -- by Mupo, Macaluso, Vigmostad and collegiate player of the year Taylor Thornton of Dallas.
It was such a familiar battle near the top of the sport. From 1995-2001, Maryland was champion. From 2005 through 2009, Northwestern won the title, leading to back-to-back faceoffs in which Maryland defeated Northwestern in 2010 before Northwestern beat Maryland last year.
The benign virus of excellence appears to have become especially virulent in the mid-1990s, when Kelly Amonte (now Amonte Hiller and Northwestern's coach) twice was player of the year in leading Maryland to national titles in 1995 and 1996. And Amonte's younger teammate for two more titles in '97 and '98 was Cathy Reese, now Maryland's coach.