The toughest schedule in all of Division I women’s lacrosse doesn’t get any easier for Northwestern on Friday.
After a two-week stretch which has seen them take on No. 1 Maryland, Penn, and No. 5 Notre Dame, No. 12 Northwestern will play host to No. 6 USC at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium Friday night.
The Wildcats will be looking to build off of their current two-game win streak, which includes a 20-4 blowout of Michigan last Thursday and a 17-12 upset of No. 5 Notre Dame on Sunday.
Things have been good lately for the ‘Cats, but that hasn’t always been the case. Northwestern began the season 1-3, and then fell to 4-6 after losses to Penn and undefeated Maryland. At one point in the second half against Penn, the Wildcats trailed 12-5.
Since that point, they’ve outscored their opponents 45-18, and the Wildcats appear to be back on track. Head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said that in the second half against Penn, her team was just able to flip a switch and play better lacrosse.
She also said her best players have started to step up. And that may be an understatement. After being rendered invisible in a lot of Northwestern’s earlier games, Selena Lasota reemerged with 11 goals last week to bump her season total up to 26. Senior Kaleigh Craig still leads the team with 27 goals and 35 points.Three straight five-point games have lofted Christina Esposito into second place on the team with 33 points.
Freshman goaltender Mallory Weisse made eight saves in the win over Notre Dame and was named the Big Ten Freshman of the Week last week, the second time she’s been given the honor this season.
But Northwestern’s recent resurgence starts and ends with Shelby Fredericks. The sophomore features prominently in the Wildcat attack, ranking fourth on the team in points, but really makes her mark in the midfield, where she has emerged as Northwestern’s draw control ace. She boasts the eighth-best mark in the country with 6.2 draws won per game, and her 74 draws won through 12 games has already surpassed her total of 73 through 21 games last year. Fredericks is the key to Northwestern’s success as the season winds down.
But what about Northwestern’s Friday foe? For the second time this year, Northwestern will take on an undefeated team, and this one hails from Southern California. The Trojans have won their first 13 games and boast some other incredible numbers: they rank first in the country in both goals scored per game (15.46) and goals allowed per game (4.92).
Michaela Michael averages 3.77 goals per game, the fourth-best clip in the entire country. But is USC really as good as they look? Their schedule certainly pales in comparison to Northwestern’s, as the most notable teams the Trojans have taken on include Duke and Stony Brook, both teams Northwestern has beaten.
A win on Friday would do a lot for both team’s tournament resume. At this point, it seems probable that both teams will qualify for the NCAA Tournament, but a win would improve either team in terms of rankings and would go a long way towards establishing their legitimacy in 2016. It ought to be a great game with way, as two former Northwestern lacrosse legends make their returns to Evanston as members of the coaching staff at USC.