Oh my God, it’s already spring sports season at Northwestern. Where oh where does the time go. Well the weather in Evanston feels like Spring righ–
Alright not quite. Well, basketball season is wrapping up soo–
Alright, that’s not true either. ANYWAY, Northwestern athletics’ crown jewel, lacrosse, will begin their “spring” campaign today as they head out to Durham, North Carolina to meet up with the 4th ranked Blue Devils.
If you don’t follow NU lacrosse, I’m not exactly sure what you’re doing. Wildcat fans have a year-in-year-out title contender in their backyard. So, if you like rooting for winners, keep an eye on the team this year.
If you do follow NU lacrosse, you might not be feeling supremely confident about this squad. NU’s Final Four streak was snapped at the hands of Big Ten debutants Maryland last year in a 17-5 beatdown in the quarterfinals of the NCAA Tournament. But with virtually all of NU’s contributors coming back, there should be plenty of talent in purple and white this campaign. Here’s what you should be looking for this year.
Can Selena Lasota win the Tewaaraton Award?
Maybe it’s a little overboard to ask if a sophomore who is still working through the change from box lacrosse to the college game can go ahead and win women’s lacrosse’s highest prize. But the stats don’t lie. 69 goals on 139 shots as a true freshman dealing with non-stop face-guarding resides somewhere between ridiculous and unthinkable. That’s where we are. Lasota can still get better, which might be the scariest part. She could stand to improve her off-hand, and her assist totals should go up too as she develops into an all-around threat rather than just a pure scorer. Maryland’s Taylor Cummings will be the heavy favorite after winning the last two Tewaaratons, but Lasota may be her best competition.
If anyone chooses to leave Lasota in one-on-one matchups this year, they’re either arrogant or ignorant. You’d be hard pressed to find a better, or more exciting, offensive threat than the sophomore Canadian.
Just how talented is the supporting cast?
Lost in the shuffle with Lasota’s berserk freshman year were major contributions from Northwestern’s secondary options. Kaleigh Craig, who’s now a senior, finished the season on an absolute tear, scoring 15 of her 46 goals in Northwestern’s 5 postseason contests. Craig’s a bit of an athletic freak. At 5-11, she stands taller than any other Wildcat, and she wouldn’t lose a whole lot of footraces either. She’s got the endurance of a marathoner too, often relied on to run out clock at the end of Northwestern victories. With Kara Mupo and her 38 goals graduating, Craig will be asked to do even more.
In the midfield is Northwestern’s engine, Sheila Nesselbush. Nesselbush is a true fan-to-fan midfielder. She’ll be asked to D up some of the best scoring threats while also marshalling Northwestern’s offense on the other end. Her stats will never be gaudy (27 goals, 6 assists, and a team leading 36 ground balls), but she’s still someone who can absolutely dictate a game without putting the ball into the net herself.
A couple of star freshmen who are now sophomores will also have key roles to play for Northwestern. Corrine Wessels led the team in assists last year with 20. Wessels does most of her damage from behind the cage, dropping dimes to cutters. Shelby Fredericks staked her claim to the draw circle late in the year after Northwestern looked like they would have a bit of a “by committee” approach. In Kelly Amonte Hiller’s low tempo, possession based style of offense, dominating the draw control is a crucial tenet. Fredericks might not be Alyssa Leonard (really though, who is?), but she, in the course of about half a season, turned in to a real weapon for Northwestern.
Who’s stepping up between the pipes?
Both goalies who saw minutes last year, starter Bridget Bianco and backup Brooke Jones, have graduated, leaving an opening that needs to be filled. Bianco’s career arc was a bit of an odd one. She started 20+ games her last three years in Evanston, but seemed to regress in her senior campaign, seeing her save percentage go from a phenomenal 45.5% to a less than phenomenal 39.2%.
Northwestern’s top ranked recruiting class features USA U19 goalie Mallory Weisse. She and junior Natalee Eastholm will battle for the starting job. We don’t know who’s going to be in net yet, as the Wildcat coaching staff are understandably keeping it close to the vest, but, it’s hard to imagine Weisse not logging some serious minutes this year, even if Eastholm gets the nod against Duke.
Can Northwestern bully people like it has in the past?
When Northwestern was racking up national championships like it was nothing, there was a pretty easy explanation of why: they were bigger, ran faster, and played more physically than anyone else in the country. That doesn’t look like it’s the case anymore. The group of “elite” women’s lacrosse teams has grown. Maryland are the baddest kids on the block now, but Duke, Syracuse, and UNC aren’t that far behind, and programs like Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Louisville keep creeping closer to the national leaders.
Northwestern has plenty of chances to prove that it belongs back in the national title conversation. In their non-conference schedule, they play #2 UNC,#3 Syracuse, #4 Duke,#8 Stony Brook, #10 Virginia, #11 Notre Dame, #14 Penn,#15 Louisville, and #19 USC while taking on just two unranked foes in Colorado and Marquette. #1 Maryland, #6 Penn State, and #18 Ohio State all lurk in Big Ten play. No one plays a tougher slate than Northwestern.
We’re going to find out pretty much immediately if Northwestern is up to snuff. This is a team and a program that is expected to play for national titles just about every season. With the offensive firepower coming back, they have a chance to do just that.