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Northwestern women’s lacrosse team ready for NCAA Final Four

Updated: May 24, 2012 4:14PM

Northwestern’s women’s lacrosse team and its large contingent of New York natives will converge on Stony Brook N.Y. on Long Island Friday for the NCAA Final Four.

The defending national champion Wildcats (19-2) open with Maryland (19-3) Friday in the second semifinal (7, ESPN3) at Kenneth LaValle Stadium. If the Wildcats win, they will play the winner of the first semifinal — Florida vs. Syracuse — in the national title game Sunday (7, ESPNU, ESPN3).

NU has a history with Maryland in the title game that has produced a rivalry. The Terrapins beat the Wildcats in the 2010 national championship game and then last season the Wildcats beat Maryland for the title.

“Any time you play a team and you trade wins and losses it becomes a rivalry,” Wildcats coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We have a rivalry with every team in this Final Four.”

They may have a rivalry with Maryland, but Terrapins coach Cathy Reese is more than complementary about the Wildcats.

“Offensively, they have tremendous talent and a strong defensive unit,” Reese said. “They’ve improved tremendously, but again I envision a great game out there. You get to this point in the season and you’re really excited to get here. All the games are super competitive. We were excited to head into the Final Four, and the athletes are excited because of the history Northwestern has.”

The Wildcats are one of those lacrosse dynasties under Amonte Hiller. They have appeared in eight consecutive Final Fours, won six of the last seven national lacrosse titles since 2005, and it was announced Wednesday that Amonte Hiller will be inducted into the U.S. Lacrosse Hall of Fame. The induction ceremony is Oct. 20 in Grand Valley, Md.

So with all that on the resume, do the Wildcats feel more confident than usual going into this weekend?

“Our mood is totally excited,” said junior Erin Fitzgerald, who scored four goals in the Wildcats’ 12-7 quarterfinal victory over Duke. “This never gets old and we’re really pumped because we have a lot of Long Island girls [on the team], and we have a bunch of experience being in the Final Four.”

Shannon Smith is the Wildcats’ go-to goal scorer and leads the team with 64, while Fitzgerald is second with 53. Against Duke, Smith scored three goals and set the Wildcats’ all-time scoring record with 252 career goals.

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