lasota virginia
Last year, Northwestern edged Virginia, 6-5. The teams met today in Georgia for the third straight year. Photo Credit: Cecil Copeland

For the third year in a row, the #4 Wildcats will face the #10 Virginia Cavaliers in the Cobb County Classic, a neutral site game hosted by Kennesaw State University in Kennesaw, Georgia, a small lacrosse hotbed without a big-name team of its own. Northwestern won last year, and has won nine of the last ten matchups against the Cavaliers.

This will be UVA’s first game of the season. They return six of last season’s starters. Among them are goalie Rachel Vander Kolk, midfielder Meghan Heick, defender Maggie Preas, midfielder Mary Alati, defender Sarah Gillespie, attacker Kelly Boyd, and defender Wyatt Whitley.

Vander Kolk has a career .419 save percentage, and saved 46% of shots against Northwestern last year. The other five returners combined for two draw controls, two shots (one on goal), one ground ball, two turnovers, zero caused turnovers and one foul against Northwestern last year.

Northwestern, on the other hand, has already started its season, so the Cavaliers have the advantage of being able to watch current tape. Other than that, Northwestern seems to have the upper hand in this matchup. Northwestern’s returning starters combined for six goals, 10 shots on goal, seven ground balls, three draw controls, four turnovers, four caused turnovers, and nine fouls against UVA. Simply put, Northwestern’s returning starters are better than UVA’s.

Northwestern opened its season against Duke last week, and they had a pretty good showing, but there are a few things they’ll need to clean up if they want to keep winning. Firstly, Duke beat NU in the ground ball battle, 21-17. Women’s lacrosse is all about possession so the ground ball battle is essential, and Northwestern needs to win it going forward.

The Wildcats beat out Duke 12-9 on draw controls, but in past years (read: when Alyssa Leonard was around) their draw control stats were far more lopsided, and Northwestern wants to increase the margin of their draw control advantage in future games.

The ‘Cats also gave up seven free-position shots against the Blue Devils and were 1-3 on their own free position shots.

However, those issues are pretty small. The ground ball margin is nearly even, and NU did win the draw control battle, which did not happen in seven of the ‘Cats’ games last year. Allowing the opponent seven free positions isn’t bad, and converting them is hard, especially if the two free positions Northwestern didn’t convert from were from bad angles.

Northwestern got some key performances against Duke, and can only hope for encores against the Cavaliers. Freshman goalie Mallory Weise had an enormous start for the Wildcats, saving eight of 16 shots sent her way, and coach Kelly Amonte-Hiller can only hope she keeps showing up like she did last week. NU also only turned the ball over eight times last week–they’d like the number to be closer to five (or, well, zero), but eight’s a great place to start. The team also played strong defense, causing seven turnovers.

Selena Lasota, as always, should keep scoring, and Kaleigh Craig is the clear second option on the offensive end, with two goals in 13 of her last 14 games, including two at Duke.  Sheila Nesselbush scored three goals on four shots, and her teammates should always be looking to her when she cuts toward the net. She also picked up four draw controls and caused a turnover–she truly is an ideal midfielder.

If all those pieces come together like they did last week, the ‘Cats can expect a victory on Saturday against UVA. They probably will come together, but crazier things have happened (see NU’s losses to Stony Brook and Penn State last year) and this team has yet to prove they’re more consistent than last year’s.

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