STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- For Northwestern senior Shannon Smith, it was a performance she can rest a career on. The West Babylon native was a worthy MVP for a program worthy of the term dynasty.
With her electric yellow shoelaces making stealth impossible, Smith led all scorers with two goals and two assists as No. 2 Northwestern defeated fourth-seeded Syracuse 8-6 in the NCAA Division I women's lacrosse championship. It is the seventh title for the Wildcats in eight years.
"Right now, I'm probably on cloud nine and it probably won't hit me that I'm not playing lacrosse until next September," Smith said.
Syracuse defenders kept a stick firmly on Smith's arms all game long, about as welcome as a guest putting her feet up on the coffee table. But Smith never got rattled by the intrusion. She stuck to Northwestern's script, which at times was a frustrating four corners kind of stalling offense in the absence of a shot clock.
"It's not great for TV, it's not great for the growth of our game, but it sure is a way to win championships," Syracuse coach Gary Gait said.
In its first title game appearance, Syracuse got an early start and, after losing the lead before the half, kept pace with the Wildcats.
Katie Webster scored first for Syracuse, darting to the goal and bouncing the ball by Northwestern goalie Brianne LoManto with 28:27 left to go in the first half. Nearly two minutes later, Amy Cross made it 2-0 for the Orange. Sarah Holden gave Syracuse a 3-1 lead with 15:41 to play, but Smith got the Wildcats back in it. She missed a shot on a quick move from behind the goal, but got the ball back and passed it to Erin Fitzgerald, who scored with 13:37 left in the first half to cut the deficit to 3-2.
Smith was being face-guarded by Syracuse's Janelle Stegeland. It frustrated the Northwestern offense, but when she got a little too close with 5:59 left in the first half, she was whistled for a penalty away from the fall. Smith got the free-position shot, but immediately passed the ball left to Casey Bocklet, who scored to tie the score at 4. Smith gave the Wildcats the go-ahead goal soon after, a swift underhanded roll to go up 5-4.
A brief deluge ended in time for the second half to begin, but play was slow. Despite the continued pressure from Syracuse, Smith got free behind the goal and ran around the front to score the first goal of the second half and give the Wildcats a 6-4 edge. Syracuse would rally to even the score at 6, but Taylor Thornton's goal with 9:55 to play gave Northwestern the lead for good.
Late penalties, including a yellow card issued to Gait with 3:22 left, made it more difficult for the Orange.
"I thought it was a timeout, so I stepped on the field," Gait said of his yellow card, which occurred after offsetting penalties that Gait admitted he was not happy about.
And with 1:04 to play, a red card was issued to Michelle Tumolo for abusive language, leaving Syracuse short-handed with time running out. "Not the way we wanted to end our season," Gait said.
Northwestern's Kelly Amonte Hiller is now 32-2 in the NCAA tournament as a coach. In October, she will be inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame for her performance as a player at Maryland. Amonte Hiller is just one title away from tying her coach at Maryland, Cindy Timchal, for most NCAA championships.
Now that Smith's career as a player is over, she said she may want to follow Amonte Hiller's example by staying involved in the game through coaching. "Shannon is part of my family and she'll always be part of my family," Amonte Hiller said.
But on Sunday, Smith was still reveling in her collegiate finale. As the crowd counted the seconds off the clock and time expired, the Wildcats dropped their sticks on the field and ran to each other. For the seniors like Smith, it was their third NCAA championship.
A final scrum, a final title, at least officially.