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Thursday, May 24, 2012
Northwestern and Maryland keep crossing paths

By Jane McManus

In the world of women's lacrosse, Maryland and Northwestern are like two sides of the same coin.

The teams cannot escape each other when the warmth of early summer comes to Long Island, N.Y., where they will again face each other in an NCAA women's semifinal Friday at 8 p.m. ET at Stony Brook University.

This is a rematch of last year's championship game, which Northwestern won 8-7. The Wildcats have won six of the past seven titles. Maryland beat Northwestern, 13-11, in 2010.

"It's a game that I think both teams will get super-excited for because we don't play in the regular season," Maryland coach Cathy Reese said. "We're not in the same conference. We don't see each other really a lot, so it gets to this point, and now our focus is changing where we can learn more about Northwestern."

There are close ties between the teams. In October, Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller will be inducted into the Lacrosse Hall of Fame -- as a player from her days at Maryland, where she was a four-time All-American. Hiller was named defensive player of the year in 1995 and offensive player of the year in 1996.

This year, Maryland (19-3) is the No. 2 seed while Northwestern (19-2) is No. 3. Last year's tournament MVP, Shannon Smith, the reigning Tewaaraton award winner, has 64 goals and 22 assists this season. She will face Maryland's Katie Schwarzmann, a finalist for the 2012 Tewaaraton award, who has 69 goals and 22 assists.

All four of the top seeds in the women's bracket advanced to the finals, but one of them -- top-seeded Florida -- is a newcomer. The program is three years old.

The Gators (19-2) face No. 4 Syracuse (18-3) Friday at 5:30 p.m. ET. The Gators have risen meteorically under coach Amanda O'Leary. When she first started to recruit at Florida, she was selling players on possibilities.

"We had nothing to show them," O'Leary said. "They would come on the recruiting visits and we had no stadium. We had no tradition. We had nothing to show them, and so these young women were trailblazers. They basically bought into something that's a dream, and they truly went away to college and with that dream of accomplishing the goals."

O'Leary is in the Hall of Fame for her time as a player at Temple, and she coached at Yale before starting the program at Florida.

"I think our team, they're very, very excited, obviously, for the opportunity to get to Stony Brook," O'Leary said. "It's been a goal of ours since the inception of the program. Now that it finally came to fruition, I think our team is excited."