Northwestern lacrosse weekend preview

WNUR Sports’ Lynden Ostrander previews this weekend’s action for the Northwestern Wildcats women’s lacrosse team as they take on the No. 9 Duke Blue Devils and No. 15 Stanford Cardinal.

Photo by Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Photo by Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to the first installment of my weekly Wildcat lacrosse column. When I first sat down to write this, I thought to myself: what word does this team justice in describing the degree to which Northwestern has utterly dominated women’s college lacrosse during the past decade and a half?

How about owned? Because the Wildcats have literally owned the sport since 2005. The numbers don’t lie; Northwestern has won the most national championships notching seven to second place Maryland’s one in that time frame.

They’ve won seven the past eight years, winning a mind-boggling 95 percent of their games in that span, led by a head coach (Kelly Amonte Hiller) with a staggering 87 percent lifetime winning percentage, and six-time coach of the year.

It’s simply incredible to fathom Hiller took a team that was on a ten year hiatus from lacrosse, carried them to the promised land 3 years later and has compiled a 87 percent lifetime winning percentage in her short time at Northwestern. This year, she is on the verge of accomplishing her 2nd dynasty in 9 years.

Which brings me to the purpose of this column. My job is to provide you with a weekly column previewing each week’s games for the Wildcats.

The 2013 Wildcat campaign for a dynasty has been a dandy thus far. Is that a surprise to anyone?

The Wildcats are 11-1 overall, ranked 4th nationally. After dropping a heartbreaker to 2nd ranked UNC, the ‘Cats have slipped on their Dr. Scholl’s insoles because they are gellin’ at the right time. Having reeled off nine straight wins, they sit atop the American Lacrosse Conference with a spotless 4-0 record, and could be in position to capture their third straight national championship.

So far this season the ‘Cats have displayed their multi-faceted offensive attack ranked 11th in the nation in scoring offense, seventh in scoring margin, and have five players with 20 or more points on the year.

This weekend pits the Wildcats against 2 stiff opponents, as the ‘Cats will play host to ninth-ranked Duke on Friday night at 7 p.m. On Sunday afternoon, they face the 15th-ranked Stanford Cardinal at 1 p.m. on Lakeside Field.

Duke has lost their last nine meetings against the ‘Cats and are on a 2 game losing streak.

Taylor Thorton, the consummate (midi) and reigning Lacrosse Honda Sports Award winner for the ‘Cats, when asked if their were any special concerns in playing Duke, said, “No special concerns, just trying to build off the momentum we’ve built these past couple weeks. Draw controls and groundballs will be huge.”

So why not overlook Duke? Well, Duke remembers all too well having their dreams of a national championship dashed by the Wildcats last year in the NCAA Quarterfinals.

Here’s 2 items in this aisle of food for thought. First, one of the Blue Devils last two losses came at the hands of UNC, in an overtime thriller decided by a goal. As I mentioned earlier, the Wildcats only loss of the year was at UNC.

Second, true freshman Kelsey Duryea wasn’t in net in the 2 games Northwestern beat Duke last year. She’s just your average freshman, you know the type that leads the nation in save percentage and saves per game.

Also, Duke has an offensive two-headed monster in Kerrin Maurer and Makenzie Hommel, both of whom have over 40 points, which Northwestern must contain.

The main concern for Northwestern is being sluggish at the onset and having to claw their way back in the second half. If I had to nickname this team it would be the “Cardiac Cats.’’

Now all you ESPN 30 for 30 regulars reading this most likely saw the latest episode called “Survive and Advance” which chronicled the 1983 NC State men’s basketball team’s magical run to the national championship, nicknamed by some of that time the “cardiac pack.” This name was coined because they were trailing in the final minutes of games and came back to win in the end.

Consider this: The Wildcats have trailed 5 out of 12 games this year at halftime and come back to win 4 out of those 5, with the lone loss being in a come from behind game.

The stark difference between these two teams is NC State was comfortable playing from behind. They loved the “underdog” role. Northwestern is a powerhouse, and thus doesn’t want to be susceptible to an upset, and holds the opposite notion.

Thorton reverberated this by saying, ‘’It’s all about focus and I feel we didn’t come out as sharp as we should have in those games, but that’s something we’re really working on now. We need to come out from that first whistle on top so you’re not having to dig yourself out of a whole every game.”

In the groundball department, Northwestern has a plus 59 advantage compared to Duke, and has “Miss Reliable,” in Alyssa Leonard, who draws more control than Afrojack with a jaw-dropping 83 draw controls and is second in the nation in that category. When you get down to those games where it’s tied with a minute to go and whoever gets the possession wins, she’s crucial and her worth is invaluable to the team.

You might as well call Thorton Superwoman because she’s the defending ALC player of the year. Whenever the team needs a big play or is in a hole, she puts the team on her back.

Take the Ohio State game this year for example. With Northwestern down 6-5 midway through the 2nd half, Thorton strapped on the cape, and asserted her indomitable will on the Buckeyes, unleashing 4 straight goals to spur the Cats to a 1-goal victory. Flat out the best player in the nation.

Right now, the Northwestern defense is scoring more points off turnovers than the newly crowned Louisville Cardinals press, with the 6th best scoring defense in the nation, and a coach with an astonishing 16-1 record at home against ACC foes.

How about Amanda Macaluso? Just call her Jerry West because she’s “Miss Clutch.” She scored the game winner against Ohio State and assisted the final tally versus Syracuse.

And let’s not forget goalie Bridget Bianco. If the Blue Devils plugged in Russ Tyler on Friday night he couldn’t even whiz his knuckle-puck by her as she has the third best goals against average in the nation.

Not to mention Northwestern has “APM,” I mean the automatic point machine in Senior Erin Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald has more moves than Mick Jagger in the crease. Fitzgerald has a team high 44 points and was last week’s ALC conference player of the week. She and Thorton are the undoubted leaders on this squad.

I think the lights will be a bit too bright for the Blue Devils on Friday night.

The Sunday afternoon game has the Stanford Cardinal paying a visit to Lakeside Field. As will be the case in this game and against Duke, the key is team defense.

Wildcat junior Defender Kate Macdonald has scooped up more groundballs recently then Mark Grace back in the day, collecting four groundballs in two consecutive games to aid a pair of Wildcat wins last week.

Macdonald and the Northwestern defense will have to blanket Cardinal Junior Rachel Ozer who has 40 points on the year.

Stanford leads the nation in draw controls and is seventh in caused turnovers. So Leonard against Junior Anna Kim of Stanford could be a pivotal matchup in determining which team can control the ball.

Bottom line: the ‘Cats are 6-1 versus the Cardinal all time, and more importantly, one of the assistant coaches for Northwestern, Danielle Spencer, was a member of the Cardinal staff last year. Obviously she will give the ‘Cats an advantage and unique insight into the Cardinals sets and what their trying to run.

In my mind, Northwestern will have an easier time pulling out the ‘W’ on Sunday.

Leave a Reply