Northwestern LIers eye Final Four at SBU
Talk about suburban sprawl. It's as if Evanston, Ill., home of Northwestern University, was added as an exit on the Long Island Expressway. Turn here for lacrosse talent pool.
The No. 2-ranked Wildcats, whose streak of consecutive NCAA championships was snapped at five when they were beaten by Maryland, 13-11, in last spring's title game, feature five starters and four key reserves from Long Island.
Those players would be strongly motivated to reclaim the throne under any circumstances, but they have special reason this spring: The women's Final Four is being played at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium.
"If our journey this season takes us to the Final Four, it would be a dream come true to play back at home in front of a home crowd," said junior midfield/attack Shannon Smith of West Babylon. "For myself and all the Long Island girls, it would be an unforgettable moment."
Smith has had plenty of those in her distinguished career. She is the all-time career scoring leader in New York state history, was part of Northwestern's championship team as a freshman and scored 69 goals with 33 assists in 22 games as a sophomore when she earned first-team All-American honors. Her coach, Kelly Amonte Hiller, calls Smith, "Very dynamic."
Smith was part of a dynamic high school recruiting class that included three other Long Island players who are current Wildcat starters - midfielder Jessica Russo of St. Anthony's, defense Lacey Vigmostad of Northport and goalkeeper Brianne LoManto of Rocky Point. They are looking forward to creating a Memorial Day weekend traffic jam on Nichols Road.
"I've played at Stony Brook for soccer and lacrosse ever since I can remember," Russo said. "The opportunity to play there again with the Long Island girls on our team that I've known my whole life would be a blessing."
Though Vigmostad's family has seen a handful of her games at Northwestern, "My friends have never seen me play as a Wildcat, since they all attend school on the East Coast," she said. "If we are fortunate enough to make it to the Final Four, it would be something special."
Sophomore attack Erin Fitzgerald of Mt. Sinai scored 35 goals in 22 games as a reserve last season and will have a greater role as a starter on this year's Wildcat squad. Other Long Island underclassmen that will either start or play a lot off the bench for Northwestern are sophomore middies Amanda Macaluso of Hauppauge and Alexa deLyra of Bay Shore, freshman attack Kara Mupo of Rocky Point and freshman middie Alyssa Leonard of Bay Shore.
It's not a lock, however, that Northwestern will toss its equipment in the air at Stony Brook on May 29. No. 1-ranked Maryland, the defending champion, returns first-team All-American Karri Ellen Johnson, a strong candidate for the Tewaaraton Trophy who scored 69 goals last season. The Lady Terrapins' high-powered offense also includes All-Americans Sarah Mollison and Katie Schwartzmann.
North Carolina has a powerful front line with Corey Donohoe and Garden City's Becky Lynch. Duke has a veteran attack that includes Makenzie Hommel of Ward Melville. Syracuse has been to two of the last three Final Fours and looks strong again. Georgetown, Virginia, Penn, James Madison and Notre Dame are serious Final Four contenders.
The Irish are led by Shaylyn Blaney, a senior midfielder and second-team All-American who scored 40 goals in 18 games last year. She's already won one major title at LaValle Stadium, leading Ward Melville to the Suffolk County Class A championship in 2007, when she was a high school senior and her mother, Erin, was the Patriots' coach.
"When the final whistle blew, my mom was the first person I looked for," Blaney told Lacrosse Magazine. "It'd be a surreal feeling to finish my career where it started."
For Notre Dame, that might be a bit of long shot. For Northwestern and its Long Island Nine, the conventional wisdom is that it will be a reality. The Wildcats are decided favorites to at least reach the Final Four.
"I think what's special about lacrosse on Long Island is that it really is a community," Vigmostad said. "I would be so proud to get back on that Stony Brook field and really represent Long Island should the opportunity present itself."