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Archive for May 19, 2007

May 19, 2007 — The Final Four — Inside Northwestern

So, now that we know who’s in the Final Four after today’s action, here’s a look at each of the four teams who will be competing at Penn this weekend.

First, the defending champions.

Northwestern Wildcats

How they got here: Won American Lacrosse Conference tournament and its Automatic Qualifier bid with a 22-6 win over Johns Hopkins in a game played at the Blue Jays’ home field.

Road to Philadelphia: Beat Holy Cross 19-7 in the first round, then stopped Syracuse 14-9 in the quarterfinals.

“Statement” win: Defeated Duke 17-5 on April 7.

Against the Final Four Field: Defeated Duke 17-5, defeated Penn 13-4.

When Northwestern Has The Ball: The offense has scored about 16 1/2 goals per game with freewheeling, speedy, offense built on precision of execution. Kristen Kjellman (62 goals) has deservedly been the focal point of the offense, but sophomores Hannan Nielsen (48), Hilary Bowen (54), and Meredith Frank (58 ) are just as good on the attack end.

Nielsen leads the team in assists with 65. She is an Australian wearing the No. 7 jersey. Sound familiar?

When Northwestern Doesn’t Have The Ball: Defensively, the Wildcats have allowed less than six goals per game and allows its opponents to shoot less than 30 percent. At the rate of defense, an opponent would need to shoot about 53 times in order to meet Northwestern’s average offensive output this season.

Its smart use of doubling the ball has forced the opposition into 362 turnovers, and defenders have vacuumed 346 ground-ball pickups. Junior Christy Finch leads the defensive unit alongside Annie Elliott and Lindsay Finocchiaro.

Oh, and when the ball is turned over, the Wildcats have a 78 percent success rate on clears. It’s almost unfair.

The Skinny: Northwestern’s success the last seven years has been mysterious to some, but not to those in the know. The team is a reflection of its coach. Like Kelly Amonte-Hiller, the players are fit, quick, and execute the offense with an almost Lombardi-esque precision. You may know what is coming if you’re an opposing coach, but stopping the play is another matter entirely.

Northwestern also appears to have a gift of playing to the style of its opposition. When it needs to, it can outrun an opponent. Or it can slow down the game and frustrate the team that likes to run.

The Wildcats, like Amonte-Hiller’s alma mater, the University of Maryland, have employed a sports psychologist. The team not only believes in what it is doing, it looks askance at those who don’t believe it can achieve its goals. This tactic has worked splendidly in winning the 2005 and 2006 NCAA championships.

The Judgment: Not to take away from either ACC team waiting on the other side of the semifinal bracket, but the most dangerous team to Northwestern is the host team, the University of Pennsylvania. But that’s only on intangibles; the talent pool alone makes the Wildcats the heavy favorite.