By Zach Koons
When current Northwestern women’s lacrosse coach Kelly Amonte Hiller graduated in 1996 from the University of Maryland, she left as a two-time national player of the year and a two-time national champion. She moved on to become one of the most successful coaches in her sport capturing seven national championships in her time as the Northwestern University head coach. Despite her success, there is one team that has consistently given Amonte Hiller and the Wildcats nightmares over the last decade: Maryland. This Thursday, Northwestern will welcome in Amonte Hiller’s alma mater to Evanston in a battle for the regular season Big Ten crown.
#5 Northwestern (9-3, 3-0 B1G) looks to push their current win streak to six games, while visiting #2 Maryland (14-0, 4-0 B1G) eyes a marquee win that may propel them to the #1 spot in the nation when the two teams meet on Thursday, April 11th. After last year’s 20-16 Maryland win in College Park, Northwestern has revenge on the brain in this high-stakes matchup. You would be hard pressed to find a bigger rivalry in the sport of women’s lacrosse over the last 15 years than the Wildcats and the Terrapins and that rivalry will be renewed at 7 PM in Martin Stadium.
The Wildcats have been through a grueling season and have already played against seven top-25 teams, posting a record of 4-3 in those matchups. With losses against #1 Boston College, current #3 Syracuse, and current #5 North Carolina, Northwestern has seemed incapable of breaking into the new elite barrier in women’s lacrosse in 2019.
That doesn’t mean that Amonte Hiller’s star-studded team will be an easy test for the Terps. NU currently rides a five-game win streak, including three consecutive top-25 wins against Penn State, Penn, and Johns Hopkins. The team is led by senior star attacker Selena Lasota who has already scored 44 goals in the 2019 campaign, making her 4.00 goal per game statistic the 6th best in the country. She recently was the fourth player ever to reach 300 points for the established Northwestern program and remains on nearly every Tewaaraton watch list.
However, the nation’s top offense hasn’t just been led by Lasota of late. First-year breakout Izzy Scane has moved into second on the team in points with 43 and recently racked up her fourth consecutive Big Ten Freshman of the Week award. Apart from her plethora of awards, Scane leads the nation in shooting percentage with a mark of .733, which has helped make the ‘Cats deadly on the offensive side.
Despite the continued success of the Northwestern attack, they’ll face their toughest defensive opponent of the season in Maryland. The Terrapins, led by the program’s all-time winningest coach Cathy Reese, maintain the second-best defense in the country, allowing an average of just 6.43 goals a game. The Big Ten leaders are coming off a 14-3 victory in which they were able to force the upstart #8 Michigan Wolverines into an abysmal offensive performance.
The defense is led by one of the most savvy goalkeepers in the country, Megan Taylor. A local product from Glenelg, Maryland, the senior Taylor boasts an unheard of .614 save percentage and has collected 132 saves compared to just 83 goals allowed. She’s helped by a veteran defense captained by Tewaaraton watch-list member Julia Braig who leads the team with 11 caused turnovers.
While the offense for the Terps seems to be lacking in comparison to the defense, when in reality the team still ranks as the #7 scoring offense in the country. The attack is led by a three-pronged midfield corps that has totaled 93 goals and 126 points between just Jen Giles, Erica Evans, and Grace Griffin. The senior Giles leads the group with 40 goals and 57 points, but is backed up by six other Terrapins that are double-digit goal scorers and that each have amassed a total of 20 points or more.
The rivalry game has all of the storylines a lacrosse and sports fan could dream of. Two top-five teams with two of the most accomplished coaches in the sport will meet in a battle of the best offense versus the second-best defense and will likely lead to a crowning of the Big Ten regular season champion. Seems like Martin Stadium will be the place to be on Thursday night.
Zach Koons and Tim Hackett will be on the call for WNUR Sports. Tune in to WNUR at 89.3 FM in the Chicago-Evanston area, the WNUR Sports Mixlr page, or stream worldwide at wnur.org/popup or on the free TuneIn App. First draw is at 7:00 p.m. CST from Martin Stadium.