It was halftime, and Northwestern was feeling good. The Wildcats (10-9, 3-2 B1G) were tied at six with powerhouse Maryland (19-0, 5-0) and had a real chance at not only knocking off the Terrapins, but also capturing their first-ever Big Ten Championship.
But Maryland, true to its undefeated record, proved to be too dominant in the second half, running away with the game for a 12-9 victory and taking the Big Ten Tournament title.
The game was certainly a tale of two halves and in the first, NU was inspired. After Selena Lasota got the ‘Cats on the board first, Maryland responded with four straight goals - but NU battled back.
Shelby Fredericks and the Wildcats secured the next seven draw controls (after losing the first three) and turned solid offensive possessions into four straight goals of their own, taking a 5-4 lead. At halftime, the score was 6-6 – which is shocking, considering that in their last three meetings, Maryland outscored NU 50-14.
“They believed in themselves and they wanted to win the game,” head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said of her team. “When you’re down and you need to make plays, you have to make plays. That’s what you do in a championship setting and I think my team is getting a little better at that, but we were just a little short today.”
Unfortunately, the ‘Cats could not hold on for the upset victory. Maryland went on a 6-1 run out of the halftime break, taking control of the game. NU got two goals back in the final minutes, but it was too little, too late.
“When you’re in those tight situations, you have to have people step up,” Hiller said. “You have to have the team play together and I think that they were able to shut down some of the things that we went for, and when they went down there they were able to capitalize.”
Christina Esposito led the ‘Cats with three goals, while Lasota and Kaleigh Craig added two apiece. Lasota also added three assists, and her and Esposito, along with defender Ally Mueller, received all-tournament honors.
While the loss was a disappointing one for NU, there are certainly reasons for optimism heading into the NCAA Tournament. After a convincing 9-6 win over Penn State in the Big Ten Semifinals and the tremendous effort today against Maryland, the ‘Cats are trending up. And after a rocky season, Craig believes her team has nothing to lose.
“I mean, we’re ready,” Craig said. “We’ve gone through anything we could have possibly gone through this season and we really have nothing to lose. We’re ready to go.”