It's not that the Northwestern women's lacrosse team has had much experience with second chances after a loss, but it is how the five-time reigning NCAA champion Wildcats have responded that impressed coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
"This team took nothing for granted," Amonte Hiller said. "This group has taken the last month, after the [April 18th] loss to get better."
The No. 2 Wildcats return to Johnny Unitas Stadium in Towsend, Md. tonight and will face North Carolina in the second national semifinal (7 p.m., CBS College Sports).
NU (19-1) face the No. 3 Tar Heels (17-2) after Maryland (20-1) meets Syracuse (15-6). The Cats, who set a record with its 22nd consecutive NCAA tournament victory last week, are playing in the second semifinal for the first time. And the players are ecstatic about not having to battle the sun.
Leading the way for the Cats are seniors Katrina Dowd, the American Lacrosse Conference player of the year, and the ALC tournament MVP, standout attacker Danielle Spencer and sophomore goalie Brianne LoManto, who had a career-best 12 saves in the quarterfinals.
"We hoped this would happen," Spencer said. "Everyone who loses hopes to see that team again. [North Carolina] is an incredible team. But it wasn't what they did, but what we didn't do the last time. Since then, some things have changed. I think it will be a matter of what we put forth.
"I think our team is peaking at the right time. We had a great game against Duke [an 18-8 quarterfinal win on Saturday]. But it wasn't the best we could play We just want to play our best and do what we love."
In a brilliant career, Dowd, last season's NCAA tournament MVP, has kicked it up a notch at tournament time.
"This is the last month of the season and the one time you have to give it all you've got," Dowd said. "When this is over, all the players are off for months.
"There is no more pressure on us than the other three teams. But this is definitely not just another game. It's a second chance to prove ourselves to ourselves and the rest of the country."
NU has shaken up the lineup since the loss and many of the younger players are becoming more of a factor. Amanda Macaluso had a hat trick against Duke, Taylor Thornton has become a force and Erin Fitzgerald. "has blossomed every single moment of the last month," Amonte Hiller said.
"The young kids have shown that they can compete at this level," Amonte Hiller said. "Since we lost, it has been about us getting better. It's not a one-night thing. It's about the last stretch.
"When you get to a Final Four, the championship seems so close and it really is so far away. The freshmen don't get the whole aspect of the Final Four, UNC is a tremendous team and they have improved the last month as well. Our focus is on winning small battles."
And a sixth consecutive championship.