By John Beers
While both teams came into Friday night’s matchup with something to prove, it was the Northwestern Women’s Lacrosse team that left with more questions than answers in a 14-11 loss to No. 6 USC.
In a game of two ranked teams trending in different directions, USC (14-0) proved that their undefeated start was no fluke, while Northwestern (6-7) cast even more doubt as to what the state of their once-dominant program is right now.
After an early goal from USC, Northwestern responded with a three-goal run that included a strike from senior Kaleigh Craig and two tallies from sophomore star Selena Lasota. The early 3-1 lead would not last, however, as USC’s Caroline deLyra completed her first half hat trick and the Trojans scored two goals in the last two minutes of the half to take a 5-3 lead into the break.
The second half of action featured a series of runs, and while Northwestern ended the game with four straight Wildcat goals, the hole they had dug themselves proved two substantial for them to comeback.
After USC stretched the lead out to 8-4 in the first 10 minutes of the half, three quick goals from Craig, senior Nancy Dunbar and freshman Leighton Yenor brought the Wildcats back within one.
It was then that USC went on the biggest run either team had all game, putting six consecutive goals past freshman goalie Mallory Weisse, highlighted by three straight from Southern Cal senior Amanda Johansen.
Down seven with just eight minutes left to play, the Wildcats could have mailed the rest of the game in, but instead choose to fight on, making the game interesting at the end.
In the closing minutes of the game, Craig and Lasota completed hat tricks of their own—adding a goal a piece—and the Wildcats got a surprise offensive contribution from senior Spring Sanders with two late goals from the defender. Sanders came into the night having only scored one goal in her entire college career, but certainly did everything she could to keep the Wildcats in the game, making long runs from the Wildcats defensive zone to send her pair of scores past USC keeper Gussie Johns.
The late rally did not find the tying goal they needed though, as USC was able to bleed the clock out to secure the victory.
On the night as a whole, Lasota, who recorded her third straight game with at least four points, leading the Wildcats. In addition to strong night from deLyra (six points) and Johansen (four points), the Trojans also received big contributions from junior Kylie Drexel (hat trick, five points) and presumptive Tewaarton candidate Michaela Michael (four points).
While many doubted the legitimacy of USC’s undefeated record coming into the game, the result left little in doubt as the Trojans remained only the second undefeated team in the country.
Were the season to end today, the Wildcats – by virtue of their losing record – would fail to qualify for the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003.
The Wildcats will welcome the Rutgers Scarlet Knights to Martin Stadium Sunday in their final home game of the season, and will then travel to Penn State and Ohio State to close out the regular season. Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad will need to win at least two of those three game if they want to keep their tournament hopes alive.