By Tim Hackett
For the third straight year, the Northwestern Wildcats (11-9) and Louisville Cardinals (12-6) met in the first round of the NCAA Women’s Lacrosse Tournament. And for the third straight year, the Wildcats picked up the win.
Northwestern did so in convincing fashion on Friday night in South Bend, using a 6-0 first half run to take down the Cardinals, 15-5.
The Wildcats exploded out of the gates, as Nancy Dunbar struck just 36 seconds in, followed by goals from Kaleigh Craig and Leighton Yenor in the game’s opening four minutes. Louisville, though, battled back, scoring two goals in just over a minute pull to within 3-2 with 23 minutes left in the half.
From there, though, it was all Northwestern. In the final 18 minutes of the first half, the Wildcats scored six times: Craig and Yenor each tallied twice, while Selena Lasota and Danita Stroup added goals of their own. The ‘Cats headed into halftime with a 9-2 lead.
Louisville started the second half strong, scoring twice in the first ten minutes. But any chances of a Cardinal comeback were crushed when Louisville star midfielder Kaylin Morissette picked up her second yellow card of the game at 13:59, disqualifying her from the final fourteen minutes.
Lasota buried the resulting free-position shot, and Northwestern was able to shift into cruise control. The Wildcats scored six times in the final 17 minutes, capped off by a goal from Haley Ciklin with 1:27 to go that made the score 15-5.
It was a true team effort from the ‘Cats. Craig, Yenor and Stroup all recorded hat tricks. Lasota tallied a game-high five points with two goals and three assists, and six other Wildcats recorded at least a point.
Freshman goaltender Mallory Weisse recorded 12 saves, the most in a game in her career, to backstop a Northwestern defense that has been on a roll lately. Meanwhile, her counterpart, Kelly Gielner, starting in place of the injured Brittany Read, made only three saves on 18 Northwestern shots on goal.
The one negative for Northwestern? Starting attacker Christina Esposito went down with an injury late in the first half, and did not return.
Regardless, the win means Northwestern is moving on in the NCAA Tournament, where they will face Notre Dame in South Bend on Sunday. The ‘Cats emerged with a 17-12 victory in the two teams’ last meeting earlier this season.
The Irish boast a formidable attacker in Cortney Fortunato, who scored five times against the Wildcats, as well as one of the best defenders in the country in Barbara Sullivan. Sullivan also takes draws for the Irish; that matchup with Northwestern’s Shelby Fredericks will be critical, as usual, in determining which team will move on to face North Carolina next weekend.