NU lax faces challenging homestand, as Chris Collins still head coach of men's basketball

Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

As the world keeps turning, our Wildcats keep winning.

After a couple of really quiet weeks in the realm of Northwestern sports in which absolutely nothing of consequence happened, let's turn our attention to our Wildcat laxers, winners of nine straight heading into the weekend's matches against academic laughingstocks Duke and Stanford.

Our Lakeside chicks with sticks are 11-1 overall and a perfect 4-0 in the American Lacrosse Conference. They are ranked #4 in the coaches poll, where they've been ever since they lost their lone game of the season to North Carolina back on Feb. 22. Since then, they have earned coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's 200th career win in a victory over Boston College, won a highly anticipated rematch of last year's NCAA championship game against Syracuse in thrilling fashion, 13-12, and also made short work of then-#8 Penn State, 11-3; then-#11 Virginia, 11-6; and then-No. 12 Johns Hopkins, 18-8.

The Wildcats did have a bit of a struggle against unranked Ohio State before winning, 9-8, and against then-#20 Navy before also winning that one, 15-12. But the close wins count the same as the big wins, so all is well in Wildcatland for the moment.

Well, if you are the nail-biting type, Northwestern does have some key injuries. Kara Mupo, one of the team's top offensive threats, hasn't played since the third game of the season, and emerging freshman midfielder Christina Esposito has missed the last several games due to injury.

But all things considered, given the expectations coming into the season, the team seems to be doing just fine. The biggest concern in the offseason is how the Wildcats would replace the prolific scoring of now-graduated (and now Hofstra head coach) Shannon Smith, NU's all-time leading goal scorer. Well, they've done it with depth, just as they said they would. Senior attacker Erin Fitzgerald leads the team with 39 goals, while junior midfielder Alyssa Leonard has 22 and senior midfielder Amanda Macaluso has 20. Three others have hit double digits in goals.

In fact, NU as a team is scoring 13.92 goals per game. That's actually above last year's rate of 13.83 gpg, when, you know, they won the program's seventh national championship.

Even more impressive is the defense, led by goalie Bridget Bianco (6.97 goals against average, third best in the nation), midfielder turned defender Gabrielle Flibotte (34 ground balls, 30 caused turnovers), and defender Taylor Thornton (27 ground balls, 14 caused turnovers). And since the best defense is not allowing your opponents to have the ball, Alyssa Leonard's dominance on the draw can't be understated. Her 6.92 draw controls/game are second in the NCAA.

So, up next for the Wildcats are two tough matches this weekend at Lakeside Field. On tap tonight is #9 Duke, which in a quirk of scheduling and NCAA postseason brackets, is making its fifth annual trip to Evanston. Last year, NU played at Duke in the regular season, but then the teams met again in the NCAA quarterfinals at Lakeside Field, with NU winning both matches rather handily. Free swag if you show up early, as NU is giving away rally towels. We'll see if Chris Collins shows up for the game wearing the right colors.

And then on Sunday, the Wildcats face #15 Stanford, which features used to feature former Wildcat Dannielle Spencer as an assistant coach. Have you ever wanted to show in monetary form your love for the lacrosse program but haven't felt sufficiently motivated? Well, Sunday's your chance, as NU is holding a pledge drive based on the total number of goals the Wildcats score in the game. Just go to www.wildcatlacrosseboosters.org, and enter in your pledge per goal. $500 seems like a decent amount to prove your fandom, but if you really love the Wildcats, make it a cool grand. Lakeside Field could use a retractable dome for those early-season snowy games.

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