Lacrosse: Back on track

All you NU lacrosse fans out there, take a deep breath.  Step away from the edge.  All is right in the world again.

The 5th-ranked NU lax team busted its mini-slump with a pair of wins this past weekend, ending its two-game losing streak and running its record to 14-2 overall. Sure the scores were maybe a bit closer than you were hoping for and in one case required a last-minute game-winning goal, but for at least a few days, we can put to bed all that chirping from critics and questions from pesky bloggers about what the hell has happened to our dominant lacrosse program.

Don’t worry, we’ll talk about those naysaying doubts again when the NCAA tournament comes, but for now, let’s just celebrate these wins, including a big one over 7th-ranked Stanford on Senior Day.

That Stanford win came Sunday behind a stellar career-high-tying 7-goal, 1-assist performance from NCAA-leading scorer Shannon Smith. After NU built a bit of a cushion, 11-8, with about eight minutes to go, Stanford staged a late rally to tie it up at 11. But then, with 23 seconds left, Alex Frank punched home the clutch game winner off a pretty sweet feed from Smith.

In a loss against Johns Hopkins a week ago, Frank had a similar chance for a game-tying goal but clanged her shot off the post. It’s good to see her finish the chance against Stanford, something the Wildcats have been working on, and it’s also a good sign for NU that Shannon Smith, who was held to just one goal against Johns Hopkins, looks to have found her scoring touch again.

On Friday, the Wildcats beat conference foe Ohio State, 14-11, pulling away in the second half in a game delayed a few times by lightning. The win clinched second place in the American Lacrosse Conference for the Wildcats, as they finish with a 3-2 record. Why is this good news? The top two teams in the standings get a first-round bye in the conference tournament, which begins May 5.

Florida easily took 1st place in the conference with an undefeated 5-0 record. The Wildcats are actually tied at 3-2 with Penn State but own the head-to-head tiebreaker. Ohio State and John Hopkins are tied at 1-3, and both play each other this coming weekend. Vanderbilt is in last place at 1-4.

Despite the wins, NU still has some work to do, as the Chicago Tribune noted in a somewhat scathing write-up.  Still, head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller has to be at least a little pleased to see an end to the team’s losing streak, which has generated much glee in the women’s lacrosse universe. NU is known in some circles as "The Evil Empire."  Yeah, that’s right, a sport at Northwestern has actually been compared to the most dynastic professional sports franchise in America, the Yankees. 

At any rate, our Wildcats close out the regular season Saturday on the road at No. 11 Virginia.

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