Northwestern lacrosse: ALC Tournament Preview

WNUR’s Lynden Ostrander recaps the regular season for the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team and previews this weekend’s ALC tournament in Baltimore, Maryland.

The Wildcats finished off the regular season on a strong note in two regards. First, they trounced rival Penn at home 15-8 in their final regular season game. Second, five Wildcat players made the All –ALC team.

Erin Fitzgerald, Taylor Thornton, Gabriella Filbotte, Ali Cassera, and Alyssa Leonard garnered All-ALC honors, with Thornton, Fitzgerald and Filbotte making the first team.

The Cats’ will try and carry the momentum gained by the win against Penn into postseason play as they begin the ALC conference tournament on Friday. Northwestern plays the winner of Vanderbilt-Penn State.

Photo Credit: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

Photo Credit: Brian Cassella, Chicago Tribune

Now, I’m going to go out on a limb and say the 8th ranked Nittany Lions will take care of business against the 2-14 overall Commodores. (Not so much of a limb at all since Penn State crushed Vanderbilt earlier this year 20-14).

Which means Northwestern will most likely play Penn State in the semifinals, a team that Northwestern obliterated earlier in the season 11-3 for the 15th consecutive time. But that was a different Penn State team. Since that game Penn State is 4-1, with impressive victories over Ohio State and Johns Hopkins.

Penn State does pose a significant threat as a team offensively, as their ranked 12th in the nation in scoring offense, averaging almost 14 goals a game. As well, they’ve scored over 16 goals in each of their last 4 games.

But the Cats’ have been streaking defensively as of late. Against two top 15 teams in Penn and Notre Dame, Northwestern only allowed 8 goals from each team after giving up 22 to Florida.

The key for Northwestern is containing Penn State’s offensive juggernaut in Maggie McCormick. McCormick has a whopping 72 points good enough to be ranked 14th in the country in points per game. I mean she almost has 40 goals and assists each, that’s ridiculous.

She has 40 goals on 63 shots, which equivocates to over 50 percent shot percentage. The first time these teams played this year she was scoreless, Northwestern’s d needs to try and replicate that performance on Friday.

Northwestern should earn the win versus Penn State, but then comes the real test, “that team,” Florida, on Sunday in a rematch of the ALC championship. We all know the particulars of the past, Northwestern has gone 0-for against the Gators, including being demolished last year in the final 14-7, and destroyed this year 22-4.

Not too mention Florida is having their best year ever with a Gator winning the defensive, midfielder, offensive and player of the year and coach of the year for the conference. They are easily the best team in Women’s lacrosse right now.

However, no team wants to beat the Gators more than Northwestern. And the last two games Northwestern has shored up issues of being in a hole early and second half meltdowns. Earlier this year Northwestern got into a hole early on the road at Florida and the defense played poorly. Obviously, with a sophomore netminder in net in Bridget Bianco, the key to the game will be team defense.

Alyssa Leonard needs 8 draw controls to tie Danielle Spencer’s all time single-season record of 110, to beat Florida she will have to step up. Lacrosse is won on draw controls and possession time.

Florida had 17 draw controls to the Cats’ 11 last meeting. If Northwestern is going to have a chance against an offensive machine they have to keep the ball out of the Gators sticks. And that will aid shooting efficiency since the momentum will be with the team who has the ball more.

Florida scored 13 goals on 16 shots in the first half, and 9 goals on 12 shots in the second, that’s about efficient as it gets. Northwestern went 2 for 14, and 2 of 4. Northwestern barely got the ball and Florida’s momentum caused the Cats’ to be inefficient, proving the correlation between draw controls and shot efficiency.

As I mentioned in my previous Florida preview Northwestern must at all costs stop Shannon Gilroy, or at least contain her. The girl scored 7 goals last year versus Northwestern in the championship, tying the whole Northwestern team, and outscored the whole squad in this year’s matchup.

She’s only a third of the problem. Kitty Cullen the offensive player of the year has 56 points, and Ashley Bruns has 51 points. This squad is as lethal as it gets. If I’m Northwestern I neutralize the hot hand during the game, double that player and make the team beat you. But obviously with the past games it starts with stopping Gilroy.

For the Cats’, Thorton and Fitzgerald have to up the ante and play better than they ever have. Thorton is one of only four Northwestern players to ever be a four –time ALC winner in program history, couple that with losing 4 times in two years to “that team” and you have arguably the greatest player in your program’s history, with a score to settle. I’ve seen this girl dominate a game when she wants to, even scoring from top guarded by 3 defenders, Northwestern has to get it to her late and often.

I think the offense has to start with Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald is the most electric player to watch in person with an array of moves, a quick first step and a devastating spin move, with a pinpoint sniper. Once she’s on a roll, she just keeps going like the energizer bunny. I mean Fitzgerald has 30 more goals than the second place Wildcat, she knows how to put the ball in the net.

Two crucial factors are clears and turnovers. In the last meeting versus Florida had twice as many clears, and Northwestern has twice as many turnovers as Florida.

This matchup is about who wants it more. I think that scenario favors Northwestern given Florida’s recent dominance and Northwestern has something to prove. For that reason I’m going with the Cats in this one. Taking a line from Herb Brooks, Northwestern, “This, is your time.”

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