As she’s done all season, junior Shannon Smith answered the call for a crunch-time goal, scoring with 18 seconds remaining to send NU past No. 3 North Carolina, 11-10, and into its seventh consecutive NCAA championship game.
The Wildcats (20-2) will face top-seeded Maryland at 3 p.m. CT Sunday in Stony Brook, N.Y., in a rematch of the 2010 national title game. The game will air live on the Big Ten Network.
“We had our ups and downs today, but as we showed throughout the season, we have a strong will to win,” said head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, now 27-2 in her career in the NCAA Championship. “We made things happen when the going was tough and I think our girls really stepped up and made plays when necessary.”
Smith scored a team-best four goals Friday night, raising her total to 82 to eclipse the previous Northwestern single-season goals record of 81 set by Hilary Bowenin 2008. The record-setter and game-winner came after nearly two minutes of Smith surveying the defense and waiting for the right moment to go for the last shot of the game. After being fouled behind the net, Smith came out of the restart and deftly split a double-team on her way to finishing an easy one-on-one chance with the goalie.
“I ran to the goal and the one girl who was doubling me slid off and then I just took the girl one-on-one and got lucky that it went in,” said Smith, a finalist for the Tewaaraton Award and Honda Sports Award in lacrosse. “There was no Plan B for me. I had all the confidence in myself, I like the last shot, that’s what you play for as an athlete. I knew it was going in when I had it.”
Northwestern twice held three-goal leads in the game only to have a resilient Tar Heel squad come back to tie, including a 10-7 advantage with just over 10 minutes remaining. The count remained tied at 10 for nearly seven minutes in the late stages of the game until Smith’s heroics with 18 seconds left. The ‘Cats’ victory was sealed when Taylor Thornton recovered the ensuing draw control.