- Dana O'Neil, College Basketball Reporter
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PHILADELPHIA -- Virginia was Virginia and Northwestern was Northwestern and in lacrosse parlance, that's all you really needed to know.
It was 2005 and back then, the Cavaliers were the blue bloods, with the blue-sportscoated fans and the NCAA hardware to prove it. The Wahoos had mouthguards older than the 3-year-old newbie that was the Northwestern women's lacrosse program and the Wildcats were a Midwestern school, for heaven's sake. Midwestern schools had about as good a chance of winning a lacrosse national championship as Idaho had of claiming a yachting title.
"I think we were maybe a little overconfident, not sure what Northwestern was all about," Virginia senior Jess Wasilewski recalled of the fateful May night when Northwestern turned a sport on its ear. "There was a lot of talk about Northwestern, that they hadn't played a really tough schedule and I think we just didn't prepare like we should have."
Funny how things change.
Northwestern beat Virginia for the 2005 national championship -- a 13-10 upset that in lacrosse circles was only slightly less stunning than N.C. State's win over Phi Slamma Jamma -- and then went on to prove it was no fluke, winning another NCAA crown last year. The Wildcats have lost exactly two games in three years, emerging as a dominant force that suddenly finds itself compared to a Maryland team that racked up seven consecutive titles in the 1990s.
Virginia and its three NCAA trophies, in the meantime, walk onto Penn's Franklin Field on Sunday night for the NCAA championship game against Northwestern as, ironically enough, the underdog.
"Yeah, I think we are," Wasilewski said. "I mean, they've won two national championships and have had an incredible season. We have to be the underdog."
An underdog, though, that won't exactly slip in under the radar for the championship game.
Presuming Northwestern's coaches, unlike many of the fans in the stands, chose to stick around for the entire nightcap game on Friday, there's no way the Cavs waltz in undetected, not after mounting the largest comeback in NCAA Tournament history, a 10-goal turnaround that ended with a Virginia 14-13 victory over Duke when Wasilewski scored the game winner with nine seconds to play.
"I don't think we'll spot Northwestern nine goals," Virginia coach Julie Myers said. "That won't be the game plan."
Virginia spent the better part of 40 minutes looking for the tread marks on its skirt pleats.
Duke spent the final 20 and likely will spend the next 10 months wondering what in the world just happened.
The Blue Devils led 13-4 with 20:46 to play. That's 20:46 from their first national championship game appearance, 20:46 from a chance to avenge a 17-5 shellacking from
Northwestern during the regular season as well as an overtime heartbreaker from last year's national semifinal.
The wheels in the second half didn't so much fly off as they did catch a rocket ship out of Philadelphia. Duke coach Kerstin Kimel insisted her team wasn't looking ahead, didn't ease off the gas, that they were playing hard and never stopped believing in themselves.
All of which makes the image of Duke tossing the ball around as if it had a major case of the cooties hard to explain.
"I never did say 'Uh-oh,'" Kimel said. "There were a couple of consecutive plays where we didn't take care of the ball and they gained some momentum. But I never thought we got comfortable. I can't explain it."
"We made Duke unravel," Myers said. "And when we see a team coming unraveled, that makes us even more excited."
Virginia mounted its comeback to tepid applause with 17:09 to play. And then the Cavs scored again 54 seconds later and the cheers were still mostly polite as the score stood at 13-6. Eight seconds after that, Megan Havrilla scored and things got interesting.
Within five minutes, it was 13-9, in 10 it was 13-10 and in eight it was 13-11 and by then, really, it was all over.
Havrilla tied it with a nifty shovel pass with 4:47 to play and as the clock counted down, Wasilewski heard a teammate yell, "Go to goal." So she did.
"I do believe it will never rain on us, that we will always win games," Myers said. "It's not that I don't recognize the deficit or the trouble were in. Maybe I'm naïve, but I fully believe in what we have here."
In the past two years, the Virginia players have come around to what Northwestern is, too.
"You can't just say that's Northwestern," Havrilla said. "They're a great team."
In a David versus Goliath game, the upstart Quakers, making their first Final Four appearance, forgot the pebble for their slingshot. By the time the Quakers got around to scoring, the crowd had gone for its halftime concession run, downed the cheesesteak, swigged the soda, rediscovered its seats and got hungry all over again.
I do believe it will never rain on us, that we will always win games. It's not that I don't recognize the deficit or the trouble were in. Maybe I'm naïve, but I fully believe in what we have here.
Technically the scoring drought lasted 43:21.
It may as well have been forever.
The one-two punch of Northwestern's high-potent offense and stingy defense had done the unthinkable -- started the running clock in a national semifinal game. Penn's scoring drought was the longest in semis history and its 8-0 halftime hole marked the first time since 1984 that a team had shot a blank in the first half.
The Wildcats' dominance was so complete, it was hard to decide which was more impressive, the scoring or the stopping. Which, of course, has been the case with Northwestern all season.
Kristen Kjellman, the defending player of the year, nabbed a hat trick and a place in the record books, becoming the all-time leading scorer in NCAA tournament games. In 13 tourney contests, the senior has 38 goals.
But the same team that is now just five goals shy of the single-season scoring mark of 351 has held teams to 122 goals in 21 games.
Do the math. That's 5.8 goals per game. The Yankees would love a team ERA that strong.
So overwhelming was the defense, Northwestern goaltender Morgan Lathrop found herself feeling like she was wearing a Yankees jersey. Shutouts in lacrosse are about as common as no hitters in baseball and somewhere around the start of the second half, Lathrop's teammates stopped talking to her, worried they might jinx the rarity.
"I tried not to think about it," the sophomore said.
Chances are she won't be thinking no-no on Sunday either, not against a team that just scored 10 goals in 20 minutes. Not against a team that looks a whole lot like Northwestern did two years ago.
"We have nothing to lose," Wasilewski said.
Dana O'Neil is a reporter for the Philadelphia Daily News. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Two short years ago, Virginia was the blue-blooded favorite seemingly destined to win its fourth NCAA title. A whole lot has changed since Northwestern dashed the Cavs' championship hopes.