Women's Lacrosse - Know your Foe: The Northwestern Wildcats

So, this is it. One game for all the marbles. Standing in the way is the Northwestern Wildcats women's Lacrosse team, the number two seed in the 2012 NCAA Women's Lacrosse Championship Tournament and the fourth seeded Syracuse Orange Women's Lacrosse team's personal boogey man (woman?) The Orange have beaten Northwestern once, back in 2003, in the Wildcats' second season of D1 play since re-establishing their women's lacrosse program. The two teams did not play in 2004 & 2005, and since 2006 Northwestern has beaten Syracuse nine times in a row, seven times in the regular season and twice in the NCAA tournament. Game time is 8pm today, Sunday 5/27.

The Wildcats have this lacrosse thing figured out so well that since 2004 they've gone 182-12 (an utterly ridiculous .938 winning percentage, which actually dropped from .941 at the end of the 2011 season because they lost TWO GAMES so far this year). In those nine seasons, Northwestern has gone to the NCAA tournament nine times, and today's game against Syracuse will be the EIGHTH consecutive title game. In the seven previous finals, Northwestern won six of them, taking a short break in 2010 loosing to Maryland. You know, that team that won seven strait titles from 1995 to 2001 while Gary Gait was on the staff there.

Today's game will be the second meeting this season between the two teams this year and features Tewaaraton Award finalists Taylor Thornton (Jr. Midfielder, FL) and Michelle Tumulo (Jr. Attack, SU). Northwestern won the first game 11-9 in overtime at the Dome

The Syracuse Orange women have shown a distinct flair for the dramatic in the two weeks. I wouldn't have thought it was possible to win in a more exciting or dramatic fashion than the 17-16 comeback win against the North Carolina Tar Heels to make it Stony Brook and play the Florida Gators in last Friday's game. Then they came back from 7 goals down to win 14-13 in double overtime. The Orange's 15-5 win against the Dartmouth Big Green in the first round is absolutely ho-hum in comparison.

The Northwestern Wildcats on the other had have made it to today's game in rather workman like fashion by beating Notre Dame 12-7 in the first round, Duke 12-7 in the quarterfinals and Maryland 9-7 in the semifinals. Just another ho-hum day at the office.



The Particulars

19-3, 8-0 Big East, At Large

20-2, 4-1 ALC, At Large

Head Coach: Gary Gait (5th year, 59-23)

Head Coach: Kelley Amonte Hiller (12th year, 195-31)

10th NCAA tournament appearance

9th NCAA tournament appearance, 6 NCAA titles

Vital Statistics

Goals per Game: 15.00 (5)

Goals Per Game: 13.81 (13)

Goals Against Avg: 8.86 (10)

Goals Against Avg: 7.57 (2)

Scoring Margin: 6.14 (7)

Scoring Margin: 6.24 (5)

Ground Balls Per Game: 13.10 (87)

Ground Balls Per Game: 17.48 (17)

Caused TO per Game: 5.33 (85)

Caused TO per Game: 8.57 (20)

Draw Controls Per Game: 15.14 (6)

Draw Controls Per Game: 12.90 (35)

Scoring Leaders

Alyssa Murray (70g, 30a, 100p) (3)

Shannon Smith (64g, 22a, 86p) (11)

Michelle Tumulo (48g, 41a, 89p) (10)

Erin Fitzgerald (53g, 9a, 62p) (52)

Katie Webster (38g, 15a, 53p) (92)

Kara Mupo (32g, 6a, 38p) (215)

Goal Keepers

Alyssa Constantino (.502 SP, 15-2) (2)

Brianne LoManto (.460 SP, 20-2) (17)

Kelsey Richardson (.508 SP, 3-1)

Common Opponents

Defeated North Carolina 17-16

Defeated North Carolina 8-7

Defeated Louisville 16-9

Defeated Louisville 16-7

Defeated Florida 12-11 (2OT)

Lost to Florida 8-7

Defeated Florida 14-13 (2OT) NCAA Tournament

Lost to Florida 14-7 ALC Tournament

Lost to Virginia 9-7

Defeated Virginia 13-6

Defeated Notre Dame 16-10

Defeated Notre Dame 17-7

Defeated Notre Dame 12-7 NCAA Tournament

I'm admittedly approaching this from the fan perspective and am not a qualified women's lacrosse analyst. Looking at the comparison of common opponents it's tempting to think that the Orange beat Florida twice and Florida beat Northwestern twice so Syracuse should be able to beat Northwestern, but that sort of thinking and and a $1.69 will get you a cup of coffee at Dunkin Donuts. The overriding factors here are twofold in my mind. First is that the Wildcats have used the Orange as their own personal chew toy for seven years running. Second is Northwestern's use of the NCAA tournament as their own personal chew toy eight years running. Since winning their first title in 2005, the Wildcats are 30-1(!) in the last eight years in tournament games, loosing only to Maryland in the 2010 title game.

So what it really comes down to is this: Does Northwestern's utter dominance of both the tournament and the Orange make you want to say Northwestern owns this or Northwestern is due to fall flat on their face? I'm having a hard time convincing myself of anything other than the former. The Orange's penchant for crazy stupid dramatic things happening it's impossible to dismiss Syracuse as having at least a puncher's chance in this game. Danielle Bernstein has a nice preview over on She's flagged how the Orange defense plays Northwestern's offense as a key item, which as a key point in the match up. I can't say I disagree.

In the previous two games, the Orange have been statistically the lesser defensive team while being nearly equal or better offensively on a goals per game basis. This game is no different. Syracuse averages over a goal more per game, while Northwestern's defense surrenders over a goal less per game than the Orange do. I'm not worried about Syracuse being able to score - they've done fine so far. The question is can they keep the ball out of the net on the defensive side. Constantino and Richardson were better against the Gators than they were against North Carolina but better play defensively all around is needed. The Orange defense needs to do a better job of keeping the shooters on the perimeter. North Carolina and Florida were both getting very good chances early.

At this point in the season, I don't believe that this game will be anything other than a close game. My head says Northwestern wins, and my gut has a strong lean in that direction too. After watching the Orange do the amazing the last two games I also can't write off their refusal to loose. I didn't see the loss against Virginia, but I watched the Northwestern game on television. The Orange rallied late from down two before loosing in overtime. The Loyola game was the only loss where they were really out of it, and some of that may have been a case of "we're in the tournament no matter whether we or lose so who cares".

The Orange bring another trophy home to put on display in the Hall of Champions at Manley Field House 13-11.

WJPZ 89.1 FM will have radio coverage . ESPNU will have television coverage. ESPN3 will have streaming video. Orange All-Access isn't showing anything. I'll be tweeting the game live from LaValle Stadium in Stony Brook at @mrbankies #NCAAWLaxFF as long as it's not raining.

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