PREVIEW: No. 4 Northwestern women’s lacrosse vs. No. 3 Florida

WNUR’s Lynden Ostrander takes a look at Saturday’s match-up between the No. 4 Northwestern Wildcats women’s lacrosse team and the No. 3 Florida Gators that swept the ‘Cats in their season series last year.

Photo by Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Photo by Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Welcome to the second week of my column. Is there even a need for an intro when you’re talking about the seven-time Division 1 women’s lacrosse national champions…

However, if there is one team in NCAA Division 1 Women’s Lacrosse Northwestern one is not overlooking, it’s the Florida Gators. Why is that? Oh, I don’t know, maybe because the Gators are currently the third ranked team in the nation, lead the all time series 3-2, and were the only team to beat the Wildcats last season (twice).

And The Wildcats still have a bitter taste taste in their mouth after being humiliated by the Gators in the ALC conference championship by the final of 14-7.

To Northwestern, it’s “that team.” And you can bet the Wildcats wished the Gators won in the final four last year, so they could have that rematch. Well, a year later, this is that long-awaited matchup for Northwestern with the only thing on their mind being payback.

On Saturday the 4th ranked Wildcats will take their talents to Gainesville Fla., to take on the third ranked Gators in a doozy of a matchup. Right now the Wildcats sit atop the ALC standings at 4-0 and the Gators are second at 3-1, with this game having major implications as to who will be the #1 seed in next month’s ALC Tournament.

The Gators resume this season is nothing to bat an eye at. Basically, they have chomped their opponent into submission by becoming the 3rd highest scoring offense in the land, and scoring a whopping 15.19 points a game; 1 point under the Bulls leading scorer Luol Deng’s points per game average this year.

The Gators are also ranked third in total points, third in scoring defense, and second in scoring margin. Thus, if the Cats get in a hole early they will have no chance to claw out of it.

Besides being a perfect 8-0 at home this season, the Gators also have a lethal offensive attack. Try stopping a team that has three women over 45 points, five with over 35 points and three with nearly 40 goals on the year.

The biggest threat to the Wildcats is without a doubt Shannon Gilroy. If Lethal Weapon 5 came out she would be on the cover.

The last time these two teams played, Gilroy had an astounding 7 goals and by herself could have tied the Wildcats’ tally of 7 during last year’s ALC conference championship game. This year, the sophomore has 45 points and leads the team with 39 goals. If the Wildcats want to win Saturday, stopping Gilroy is essential.

Next up on the Wildcats’ “to-stop” list is Kitty Cullen. And there is nothing nice about her game; she’s absolutely filthy. Cullen, a senior, leads the team in points (50) and 2nd in goals. She leads the team in assists with 13.

If the Wildcats want to get the ‘’W” they will have to contain this two-headed monster, to neutralize the third ranked defense.

The Gators are on the verge of becoming only the second team in Wildcat head Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s tenure to have a three-game winning streak against Northwestern.

So, how does Northwestern take care of business in the swamp? Well, it starts with Erin Fitzgerald. She must have stole the mask from Jim Carrey because she is Smokinnnnnn! The senior attacker has won back-toback ALC Offensive Player of the Week awards.

Fitzgerald has scored a goal in every game this year and has over 200 career points. Her back must be hurting because she is carrying the team right now ranking eighth in the nation in goals per game with an astonishing 3.29. It’s time for an encore. I can hear Jay Z saying he wants more!

But she’ll have to get it done against Florida’s netminder Mikey Meagher, who was a first team All-American last year, and the Gators’ have the third-ranked scoring defense this year. That will be the matchup of the game and will most likely decide the outcome.

Bottom line, it’s going to come down to senior play on both sides. Florida’s top 4 seniors versus Fitzgerald, Taylor Thorton, Beatrice Conley and Gabriella Filbotte.

Wildcat Superwoman Taylor Thorton has to assert her will against Florida. What hasn’t she done in a Wildcat uni? Fourth in groundballs, third in caused turnovers in Wildcat history, started all 82 games of her career, and has scored a goal in every game this season, in addition to scoring an impressive 12 out of her last 14 attempts.  When the chips are down she comes through.

Gabrielle Filbotte has played tremendous this year at middy. Northwestern needs her to cause some turnovers on the Gator offense and especially wreak havoc on Shannon Gilroy. She has 33 caused turnovers on the year and the fourth highest in a Northwestern season with 3 games left.

Obviously in an offensive slugfest type of game possessions and time of possession are crucial factors. That’s where Alyssa Leonard comes into play. Only a junior is now Northwestern’s all time leader in draw controls.

Let me repeat that again she’s only junior and her 91 this year matches her best season ever and there’s still 3 games left in the regular season. The game might come down to who has the ball last and I don’t even think Jonathan Toews could win a faceoff from her at this point – she’s unreal!

Defense is an integral part of a team’s success in any sport. In lacrosse it starts with the goalkeeper. When a play breaks down, your defense needs their goalkeeper to step up and make a stop.

Northwestern has the fifth best scoring defense in the nation and a huge part of that is Wildcat Sophomore goalkeeper Bridget Bianco. Last week she blanked the Blue Devils in the first half, then tied her career high for saves in a game with 9 the following game against Stanford.

Chew on this: Bianco has the third best goals against average in the nation at 6.82 and the sixth best save percentage at .497. If the Cats are going to get it done on Saturday they need Bianco to dial it in between the posts.

The biggest key to the Cats’ recent success has been Senior Beatrice Conley. Conley has stepped up and peaking at the right time. In the last 4 games, she scored 5 goals including 2 two-goal games last weekend.

Florida’s only loss was dealt to them by Penn State 16-11. Northwestern crushed Penn State earlier this season, 11-3.

The keys to the game for Northwestern to win is not to get in a hole early, contain Gilroy, and not get into a slugfest because Florida will win that type of game as they’ve scored over 20 twice this season.  Northwestern hasn’t reached that mark.

If you’re the ‘Cats, you want to slow the game down, win possession time and make the Gators play your style of play. Don’t let the Gators cause turnovers that lead to “fastbreak goals” which will excite the home crowd and give the Gators the momentum.

The ‘Cats would love nothing better than to spoil the Gators last home game for their seniors. Those same seniors beat the Cats twice last season and took the ALC crown from them.

Payback is a powerful thing and that constant reminder of losing to “that team” will drive the Cats to victory. In the end you gotta think the Cats want this more and are a hotter team at the moment. To Northwestern, this is a business trip and nothing will suffice but a win.

My take: the ‘Cats evade the Gators’ chomp and scamper out of the swamp with a “W”.

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