LaX Advances to Final Four

By Kiki Higuchi

Earlier this week, a friend texted Kelly Amonte Hiller and told her that she needed to find an answer for the draw against Duke. After the game, Amonte Hiller felt the “answer” for the ‘Cats was pretty clear.

“We have multiple answers,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have Jill Girardi, Brennan Dwyer, Lindsey McKone, and our circle play is tremendous. We felt very confident going into today. We feel like we have a great game on the draw and that teams should have to worry about us.” 

Girardi was the mainstay for Northwestern in the circle, where she faced Duke’s Maddie Jenner, third in the nation in draw controls per game. Girardi’s strategy on the draw was the same as it has always been. 

“When I step on [to the circle], I tell myself we’re going to win it,” she said. “I trust myself and I trust my teammates.”

And Girardi was right. Northwestern dominated in the circle, beating Duke 21-13 and holding Jenner to just seven draws, a key part of the 22-10 win over the Blue Devils. The ‘Cats now advance to the NCAA tournament semifinals in Towson, Maryland, where they will face No. 3 Syracuse. 

It’s true, however, that confidence alone wasn’t the Northwestern draw team’s strategy against Jenner. Jenner, who stands tall at 6-feet-2-inches, likes to use her height to grab the ball cleanly out of the air. So, the ‘Cats focused on getting the ball on the ground and staying on her hands to win the 50-50 balls.

According to Lauren Gilbert, confidence can be found in anyone on the Wildcat roster, not just in the draw circle. 

“We have this unwavering will to win. I never doubt that we’re going to come out on top,” she said. “Even if the other team goes on a run, we know we’re fine.”

This mentality was tested early when the ‘Cats went down 6-1. With just ten minutes to go in the first half, Northwestern found a 6-0 run which propelled them past the Blue Devils. The Wildcats never looked back after that, executing more four and five point runs for the rest of the game. 

Izzy Scane and Gilbert were the spark plugs for that six-point run (and many runs after that). Both took advantage of Northwestern’s defense in the midfield to grab a couple of easy goals while Duke was sleeping in transition. 

“Instead of focusing on what the score was, we focused on the little things we do every day that make us successful,” Scane said.  “Our team does a really good job of staying calm in those situations. There’s never any doubt that we’re going to come back on top.”