After a weekend of record-breaking offensive lacrosse that culminated in wins over Richmond and No. 7 seed Towson, Northwestern women’s lacrosse finds itself in Chapel Hill, North Carolina ready to challenge No. 2 seed North Carolina in the quarterfinals of the NCAA tournament. The Tar Heels come in with a loaded lineup and a 18-13 victory over the ‘Cats back in March under their belt. Carolina is no doubt the favorite, but Northwestern is hot and looking for the upset. How can the ‘Cats pull it off and advance to the semifinals in Stony Brook next weekend? Here are a pair of important areas to keep an eye on.
Win the Draw Control
Northwestern and North Carolina are both used to dominating the draw control. The two teams both rank top 10 in the NCAA in draw controls per game, and their leaders Shelby Fredericks and Marie McCool each rank in the top 10 in individual draws per game as well. McCool ranks 8th in the country for the Heels with 7.58 DC/game, while Fredericks comes in 6th in DC/game with a robust 7.94.
Draw controls were crucial in determining the momentum when NU and UNC squared off in March. In the first half, Fredericks dominated in the center circle as Northwestern won draw controls by an 11-5 count, which propelled the team to an 8-7 halftime lead. North Carolina threw four different players in the circle — including McCool — to try to outmaneuver Fredericks, but no one had success against the draw specialist in purple.
However, in the second half, Carolina turned the tide, sticking with only McCool in the circle and claiming a 10-7 advantage in second half draw controls. Carolina’s turnaround in the center circle coincided with the gouging 8-1 run that put away the Wildcats, as UNC continued to get possession after each goal. Even having a slight advantage in draws allowed the rest of UNC’s talent to take over, compared to the first half, when NU needed a near-double advantage to hold on to a 1-goal lead.
Both teams have draw control experts in Fredericks and McCool who have the talent to win a game by themselves. Northwestern led draw controls overall in the first game, but on Saturday, it needs a full-game performance from Shelby Fredericks that mirrors her first half performance in the last matchup. If she can hold a sizable advantage — say, by 5 draws or so — over McCool for a full 60 minutes, the Wildcats will have a good chance to upset the Tar Heels.
The Roaring 20s
Northwestern has long been known as a defensive-minded team, but the end of the 2018 season has seen the Wildcats rewrite that narrative. Going back to the Ohio State game on April 6, here are the goals scored tallies for Northwestern in its last 8 games: 20, 20, 17, 19, 16, 16, 24, 21. With four 20-goal outings and an average of over 19 goals per game in the last 8, Northwestern seems to have turned the corner offensively. Junior Selena Lasota and senior Sheila Nesselbush have combined for 31 of Northwestern’s 45 NCAA tournament goals through the first two rounds — that’s right, nearly 8 goals per game each — to lead the offense in record-breaking fashion.
On the other side of things, Northwestern’s defense has not performed to the best of its ability lately. The ‘Cats, who at one point were a top-10 scoring defense in the country, have seen their goals against average balloon from sub-9 to 11.15 curently. Much of that dropoff is due to the fact that NU has given up an average of 19 goals per game over its last 4 games — losses to Maryland and Penn State and the pair of NCAA tournament wins.
Whether the recent defensive numbers are a symptom of scoring more goals or a signal of some change in the defense, it is certainly a part of the game Carolina will look to exploit. UNC has played 3 teams multiple times this season (Boston College twice, Syracuse twice, Virginia Tech three times), and in each series, the Heels increased their scoring output in every rematch, including increasing it in all three matches against VT. If that pattern holds, and UNC improves on its 18-goal performance the first time around, all eyes will be on the Northwestern offense to outscore the potent UNC attack given the shaky play of the defense recently. It is a tall task, but for Northwestern to have a good chance in this game, it needs at least 18 goals from the offense in what will likely be a shootout.
How to Follow
Parker Johnson and Zach Koons will be on the broadcast from Kenan Memorial Stadium in Chapel Hill live on-air for WNUR Sports. You can listen live on 89.3FM in the Evanston-Chicago area or stream online at wnur.org/popup. The game is scheduled to start at 12pm CT/1pm ET, but that time is subject to change depending on weather.
For links to listen, updates on the game, and more Northwestern coverage, be sure to follow @WNURSports on Twitter.