Northwestern reclaims lacrosse title

STONY BROOK, N.Y. -- Shannon Smith was still in elementary school when she signed up for a lacrosse camp held by Northwestern coach Kelly Amonte Hiller on Long Island. Smith was just a slip of a kid, but nevertheless somehow already installed with that intangible ability to take over a game and will her team to victory.

Each year Smith went back, and the happy-to-be-here kid grew into a sophisticated young player able to distinguish camping from coaching. Smith found that Hiller had something new for them every year, and eventually that left Smith no choice but to follow Hiller to Northwestern.

So Sunday's NCAA Division I women's lacrosse final at Stony Brook University's LaValle Stadium, just 30 miles from Smith's hometown of West Babylon, N.Y. , was a bit of a homecoming. Smith had four goals for the Wildcats in a tight 8-7 win over Maryland. The junior attacker was named the tournament MVP.

Of course there was history there. Smith had watched as her team lost this national championship game to the Terps a year ago.

"Ever since last season," Smith said, "I've told myself that I never want to see the hurt in my teammates' eyes again so I was going to do everything it took to win this national championship, and I think I knew that had to keep stepping up no matter what happened."

Maryland's Katie Gallagher was charged with guarding Smith Sunday.

"Shannon is a very good player, and it was difficult to guard her around the crease," Gallagher said. "I really enjoy playing around the crease but she is a good player. She is tough and she goes hard. She's very strong. I did enjoy playing her, it was a challenge."

These two programs are consistently excellent, and this game is hardly the final chapter.

Hiller had Kerri Harrington defend Maryland attacker Sarah Mollison, who was held scoreless.

"She really runs the offense," Hiller said, "and she's their field general, and we wanted to try to take them out of that so we could focus in on their other major players."

Smith is a breed of athlete so focused that, when asked what she does other than lacrosse, says that she used to play basketball, sometimes soccer, and that she likes to throw a football around with her quarterback of a brother. Anything other than sports? She'll get back to you.

"My dad had a hard time keeping me still," Smith said with a smile.

And there is no time to keep still right now. Smith will be a senior next year, which is really just next season -- her last season. The good news is that perhaps some of the 150 people who came to support Smith in the final, thanks to tickets procured by her father, can spread the word about Northwestern lacrosse.

But then again, Hiller seems to have that ground covered.

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