NUmbers Guy: Northwestern lacrosse inconsistent in non-conference play
It’s not even April yet, but crunch time is quickly approaching for Northwestern women’s lacrosse. The ‘Cats already find themselves halfway through the regular season, with only conference play and the Big Ten tournament to come before the postseason. But it hasn’t been the dominant non-conference season that Northwestern has often enjoyed in previous years; if anything, the ‘Cats’ first eight games (in which they went 4-4) were a bit underwhelming.
With that in mind, here are some NUmbers that break down where Northwestern found success (or difficulty) in non-conference play.
Northwestern ended their recent homestand in winning fashion, topping Colorado 11-6. The game was much closer than that, however, as the ‘Cats led by only one until a flurry of late goals. Northwestern went nearly 30 minutes without scoring, and that isn’t entirely unusual for this team. NU has had seven scoring droughts of at least 14 minutes so far this year, many coming in crucial stretches that allowed opponents to stay in the game or take the lead. Part of this fact has to do with the lack of a shot clock in women’s lacrosse, which allows teams to play conservatively and drain the clock when leading. Still, Kelly Amonte Hiller should be at least somewhat concerned with her team’s offensive issues.
Part of Northwestern’s offensive struggles have come from last year’s leading scorer. Reigning Big Ten Freshman of the Year Selena Lasota tallied a hat trick in Northwestern’s win over Colorado, but still scores only 1.88 goals per game (15 goals in eight games). That figure is a big drop off from Lasota’s 3.29 goals per game during her sensational freshman season, which ranked eight nationally. Obviously, it’s unrealistic to expect Lasota to continue last year’s torrid scoring pace, but her scoring drop off is certainly being felt by the Wildcats. Lasota connected for at least one goal in all 21 games this season, but has already gone scoreless in two games this year (and failed to record a shot against Syracuse).
With Lasota’s struggles and the departure of former Wildcats like Kara Mupo, who had a knack for finding the back of the net, Northwestern has needed new Wildcats to step up in 2016. A logical choice would be Kaleigh Craig, who finished second on the team with a career-high 46 goals last season. Craig has done a respectable job so far and currently leads the team in points and goals with 22 and 17, respectively. Those 22 points aren’t necessarily setting the lacrosse world on fire like Lasota did a year ago, however; Craig ranks below the national top 100 in total points so far in 2016. Her 46 percent shooting clip last season has dropped to 37.8 percent, which is part of the reason why her numbers aren’t gaudier. Northwestern doesn’t need an elite scorer to succeed, as the ‘Cats have proven they can win with defense, discipline and timely scoring. That being said, ‘Cats fans should hope that Craig, Lasota or Christina Esposito start to catch fire against elite conference teams like Maryland or Penn State.
One area where Northwestern has stepped up is in draw controls. Shelby Fredericks is a big reason for that. Fredericks leads the team with 42 draw controls and a 5.25 average in draw controls per game (the next highest player is Lasota with 19 draw controls). That 5.25 figure is one of the 10 best numbers in the country in draw controls per game as of Northwestern’s win over Colorado. Since NCAA career draw control record-holder Alyssa Leonard graduated in 2014, Northwestern’s dominance in the draw control circle hasn’t quite been what it used to be. Fredericks’ emergence in that area is very important; draw controls lead to time of possession, which is integral for any team, especially one prone to scoring struggles.
Another area of potential concern heading into the season was at goalie. Freshman Mallory Weisse took over for the graduating Bridget Bianco, and so far Weisse hasn’t looked intimidated. Her 7.63 saves per game average is best in the Big Ten and among the best in the country, as well as a noticeable improvement from Bianco’s 5.9 saves per game last year. Weisse’s 9.5 goals allowed per game is also comparable to Bianco’s 9.95 GAPG figure from 2015. It goes without saying, but if Northwestern plans on playing more closely contested games or doesn’t get consistent offensive production from its top scorers, goalkeeping will be paramount. So far, so good for Weisse.
If there’s one category that is occasionally overlooked but could lead to success as the season wears on, it’s free position shots. Northwestern is 20-for-51 on free position shots so far in 2016, good for 39.2 percent. That isn’t a horrible rate, but it is slight below the national average. If Northwestern can take better advantage of its free-position opportunities, less strain will be put on its attackers to make something happen offensively. For some of Northwestern’s top scorers who have struggled so far on free position shots (Lasota 3-for-8, Esposito 2-for-9), even a modest improvement could go a long way.