The Boston College women’s lacrosse team needed the little plays to go right if it was going to edge top-ranked Northwestern (21-1) in Sunday’s NCAA Division 1 championship game. While that happened late in Friday’s semifinal to help BC advance, it didn’t happen in the final.
Northwestern’s offensive domination and its defensive renaissance led to frustration for second-ranked BC. The Wildcats, led by six Massachusetts-born players and Hingham-raised coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, won their eighth national title with a 18-6 victory over the Eagles (19-4) in Cary, N.C.
“Northwestern just played a really aggressive defense, and they had a really great day,” said BC coach Acacia Walker-Weinstein.
It was a difficult loss for Boston College, which was playing in its sixth consecutive national championship game — and suffered its fifth loss. Having won 13 straight games coming into Sunday’s final, including the program’s first ACC championship, the Eagles thought their passion and come-from-behind tendencies would come out ahead at the end.
“On this team, the expectations are to win it all,” said Walker-Weinstein. “So it’s a disappointment, but I’m also really proud. We did do some things that the program has never done before.”
The game started in rainy and mild conditions, which seemingly chilled BC’s offense, but did not have the same impact on Northwestern.
“Early in the game my hands were slipping and my feet were slipping,” said Northwestern’s leading scorer Izzy Scane, who finished with four goals. “I think all we had to do was remember everyone is playing in the same conditions and no one is at an advantage or disadvantage.”
The Wildcats struck first, with freshman Madison Taylor scoring on a free position two minutes into the game.
A foul parade followed, with six fouls in five minutes between the teams. The last, on BC, gave Taylor a free position that she converted to put the Wildcats up, 2-0.
As in Friday’s semifinal, BC ran into turnover issues in the first quarter, amassing six of its 21. The Eagles’ best scoring chance of the frame came 10 minutes in. Cassidy Weeks shot squarely on Northwestern goalie and Newburyport native Molly Laliberty, but she made a stellar save to keep BC off the board. A Hailey Rhatigan goal in the last minute of the first put Northwestern up. 3-0.
Momentum soon shifted BC’s way. Five minutes into the second, goals by Kayla Martello and Belle Smith brought the game within one. The Wildcats didn’t let the Eagles’ threat last long, with Rhatigan scoring her second of the game three minutes later.
With five minutes before the half, the Wildcats’ Jane Hansen, a former MIAA champion with Cohasset, made a key takeaway that interrupted BC’s flow in front of Laliberty. But as Northwestern threatened in the Eagles’ zone, Sydney Scales, BC’s top defender, stopped the chance by picking up a ground ball.
The Wildcats weren’t held up for long, with Scane scoring her first tally of the game off a helper from Elle Hansen with three minutes left in the half. Scane scored another right before halftime to give Northwestern a 6-2 lead.
The third quarter was all Northwestern, with the Wildcats outscoring the Eagles, 5-2, including two more tallies by Taylor and one by Elle Hansen. Smith and Martello scored for BC, but they found themselves down, 11-4, going into the final quarter.
Much of BC’s frustration stemmed from how Jenn Medjid, the Eagles’ leading scorer, was defended. The hero of Friday’s semifinal game with five tallies, she wasn’t able to make those same plays in the final. Amonte Hiller made several defensive changes, both to coverage and personnel, after her team’s regular season meeting with BC, and those led to the Wildcats’ ability to better cover Medjid.
“The second half of that game was kind of the spark that started this defensive run,” said Amonte Hiller. “We really came back. We held them to key possessions, and our offense went and did their thing.”
One of those Northwestern changes saw Sammy White move to defense, and it was effective. Picking up six ground balls and beating BC in the midfield, she earned Player of the Game honors.
Medjid was finally able to get on the board in the fourth quarter, but Northwestern answered the tally with three more goals, going up, 16-5. With three minutes left, Martello stopped the Wildcats’ run with her third goal of the game, but the deficit was too deep for BC to make up.
Kat Cornetta can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.