Northwestern lacrosse takes on Massachusetts, USC

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Lots of familiarity behind the bench, as NU head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller goes up against two of her proteges this weekend

In a matter of mere hours, the Northwestern women's lacrosse team kicks off (is that the right term? faces off? draw controls?) the 2013 with a match against Massachusetts out in Los Angeles, where strangely enough, it's only 47 degrees at the moment. Still, that's better than frigid Evanston, and far better than Amherst, which, in case you haven't heard, is about to get buckets of snow.

Tomorrow, NU then helps launch the inaugural season of USC's lacrosse program, the latest evidence of the sport's Manifest Destiny out West. The game will be at the LA Memorial Coliseum. Admission's free if you happen to live out that way.

Both games will be streamed online-- today's game at nusports.com, and Saturday's game at usctrojans.com. Don't know if those streams are free.

If you didn't read my NU season preview from earlier this week, you can check it out here. And if you've never watched women's lacrosse before but want to learn the rules, you can check out this post from last year. So here are a few tidbits to watch for this weekend, if you're following along.

1) Are we playing anybody good?

UMass is ranked No. 13 in the Inside Lacrosse Magazine Division 1 poll, so the Minutemen(women?) are a pretty decent team. They finished 19-2 last year and won their fourth straight Atlantic 10 championship, before losing in the first round of the NCAA playoffs to powerhouse Maryland, whom NU then beat in the semifinal. So, this will be a good opening test for the Wildcats.

As for USC, well they're a new program. Of the 26 players on the roster, 17(!) are freshmen. So yeah, it'll probably be a rough year for the Trojans, but things aren't supposed to be easy your first season.

2) What should I be watching for from Northwestern?

The Wildcats lost their all-time leading scorer in Shannon Smith and also two key players on their defense, so it'll be interesting to see how head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller remolds the offense and defense. NU also lost their three-year starting goalkeeper (a little more on that further down).

I'll be most interested to see Taylor Thornton, Lacrosse Magazine's preseason player of the year, take the field. She's fast, she's dynamic, and she can play just about every position on the field. While she was used mostly on defense her first two seasons, she got more involved in the offense last year. We'll see where she plays this year.

3) What about on the other teams? Surely they have some dangerous players to be aware of.

UMass features Katie Ferris, who was fourth in the country in scoring last year with 98 points and was named to Inside Lacrosse's preseason All-America team.

The USC Trojans....their game notes single out two players-- freshman attacker Katie Austin, who is the daughter of "legendary fitness guru Denise Austin" and niece of former US Open tennis champion Tracy Austin; and junior midfielder Elizabeth Eddy, who is a three-time letterwinner on USC's women's soccer team.

Probably most interesting from an NU standpoint are the coaches on the sidelines. UMass is led by former Wildcat Angela McMahon, and one of her assistants is Brianne LoManto, the aforementioned now-graduated three-year starter in goal for Northwestern.

USC, meanwhile, is coached by McMahon's former NU teammate Lindsey Munday, who is assisted by another former Wildcat in Hilary Bowen.

Obviously all four of those coaches have plenty of championship experience and are extremely familiar with Amonte Hiller's coaching style. Munday was even an assistant coach on Amonte Hiller's staff for a couple of seasons at NU. Their teams may not quite have the talent to match Northwestern, but we'll see if their familiarity with Amonte Hiller gives them any edge.

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