There’s really some subtlety to playing great defense in lacrosse, especially on the women’s side of the sport. It’s more about anticipation, foot speed, reflexes, instinct and cutting off angles than sheer physicality … although the latter isn’t totally eliminated. That’s where the subtlety comes in.
For Northwestern freshman Kerri Harrington, her basketball background is also handy on the lacrosse field. That was especially the case Sunday in Stony Brook, N.Y., as the expected favorites, No. 1 seed Maryland and No. 2 Northwestern, met for the national championship. Defense prevailed in a mild upset, as the Wildcats won 8-7.
“I had experience with face-guarding; I did it in high school,” Harrington, one of Northwestern’s defensive standouts Sunday, said of both her prep lacrosse and hoops careers.
The Terps, who were seeking their 11th NCAA title, had lost just once previously this year — a double-overtime defeat at Dartmouth to end the regular season. That had ended a 28-match winning streak for Maryland, which included last year’s championship-game victory over Northwestern.
Maryland’s long-standing Aussie connection has continued with attacker Sarah Mollison, who comes from a lacrosse-playing family in Melbourne. She was targeted by Northwestern as the lynchpin to Maryland’s attack, and Harrington was assigned the task of doing everything she could to thwart Mollison.
It was a freshman versus a senior, but Harrington figured one advantage she had was that she is used to trying to defend dynamic-scoring teammate Shannon Smith in practice. Another plus was that Harrington is 5-foot-10 but very nimble, and she uses the combination of height and speed to frustrate attackers.
“I figured I had a lot of preparation going against Shannon,” Harrington said. “So my teammates kept saying, ‘You got this. You can do this. Just look [Mollison] in the eye and don’t let her get the ball.’ If she did get it, I knew how to play one-on-one defense.”
It was Harrington’s first start this season, but she’s got quite a pedigree. Her older sister, Sara, played for the Wildcats. The Harrington sisters are among several alums of Westwood High in Massachusetts who are playing now, or previously did, for Northwestern.
Once the game began, the coaching chess match was on. And it had a kinship to last November’s field hockey national championship. That showdown between perennial powers Maryland and North Carolina pitted two coaches who’ve been going against each other for decades. The Terps and Missy Meharg prevailed over the Tar Heels and Karen Shelton, 3-2 in double overtime, for the field hockey title.