"I am really proud of this team," VU Head Coach Cathy Swezey said. "I'm proud of the composure they showed under such intenese pressure.
"We could not be more excited about representing this great conference in the NCAA Tournament. I know we'll be able to build on today's performance heading into post-season play."
Senior Kelly Devlin scored the game-winning goal less than a minute into the second overtime period off an assist from classmate Jess Roguski. Senior Christiana Serle controlled the ensuing draw and the Commodores ran the final two minutes off the clock before breaking into wild celebration.
With the win, Vanderbilt secured its fifth 10-win season in the program's nine-year history. The Commodores travel to South Bend, Ind., on Saturday, May 8, to face Notre Dame at 1 p.m.
Senior Tewaaraton nominee Michelle Allen contributed seven points to the VU effoort on four goals and three assists. Allen also picked up four ground balls and controlled five draws to lead the Commodores. Sophomore Kate Hickman added her eighth hat-trick of the season, while Roguski had a goal and three assists.
Vanderbilt's defense held the Wildcat attack to nine goals, eight under their average in NU's previous five league games. Junior goalkeeper Ashley Bastinelli made seven saves to go along with three ground balls and an interception.
The Commodores opened the game with a goal in the second minute as Roguski found Allen to give Vanderbilt a quick 1-0 lead. The Dores scored the first three goals of the game, with Hickman and Allen tallying in the 20th and 22nd minutes.
Northwestern was unable to score until the 26th minute of the game, but Vanderbilt answered with two goals in the final 20 seconds of the half. Roguski and junior Meg Spies both found the back of the net to give the Dores a 5-1 halftime advantage.
The tide changed in the second half, as Northwestern scored the first three goals of the period. Hickman would break the Vanderbilt silence in the 39th minute, but three more NU goals gave the Wildcats the lead, 7-6, with seven minutes to play.
The Wildcats had a goal overturned in the 55th minute because of a crease violation, and the Commodores came back down the field to tie the game up at 56:39 when Allen scored her third goal of the match. Vanderbilt had a final chance to take the lead in the 58th minute, but a crease violation robbed Allen of her fourth goal.
In the first overtime, Northwestern scored 11 seconds into the period. But Vanderbilt bounced back when Allen corralled an errant VU shot and beat NU goalkeeper Ashley Gersuk to tie the game. Northwestern again got behind the Vanderbilt defense on the ensuing draw to take a 9-8 lead, however the Commodores would not lie down and Hickman knotted the score at 9-9 with her third goal.
The teams switched sides for the second overtime period, with Vanderbilt defending the southern goal as they had in first half. Devlin's decisive goal came at the 63:57 mark on an assist from Roguski, and the Commodores wasted the remaining two minutes to seal the impressive win.
Vanderbilt showed a great deal of composure throughout the match, enduring an aggressive Northwestern defense that picked up five cards, including a red card for senior Courtney Koester in the second half.
The Commodores (10-4, 5-1 ALC) earned the second trip to the NCAA Tournament in the past three seasons. The ALC title also is Vanderbilt's second, although 2004 is the first year that the conference title had carried an NCAA berth.
Vanderbilt will close the 2004 regular season on Saturday, May 8, with a 1 p.m. match agianst Notre Dame in South Bend. The Commodores will then return to Nashville and prepare for Sunday's NCAA Selection Show.