Northwestern women's lacrosse: Wildcats play Penn State with trip to Final Four on line

Amanda Macaluso scored the game winning goal in overtime the last time NU played Penn State. - Anthony Gruppuso-US PRESSWIRE

Northwestern can go to the the Final Four for the ninth consecutive year with a win under the lights against Penn State on Saturday.

It's a good old-fashioned catfight (editor's note: PHRASING) with a trip to the NCAA Women's Lacrosse Final Four in Philadelphia on the line. Northwestern and Penn State play at Lakeside Field at 7 pm on Saturday. It's the last home game of the year for the 'Cats, so go to the game if you're in the area. It's also on the real Big Ten Network, which is good for you all who want to watch the game on TV. But it also means that I've done my last broadcast of junior year and I know you're all heartbroken about that.

Northwestern is 2-0 against Penn State this season, but another Final Four for Kelly Amonte Hiller's crew is not a given. Northwestern needed overtime to defeat the Nittany Lions 9-8 in the semifinals of the ALC tournament on May 3. Penn State outscored NU 3-1 in the second half, but NU escaped with an OT goal from Amanda Macaluso to advance to the tournament final. Northwestern had a considerably easier time the first time these teams met this season at Lakeside Field. NU defeated Penn State 11-3 behind four goals from Erin Fitzgerald when the teams met in the regular season.

Speaking of Fitzgerald, she was one of four Wildcats to be named a 2013 IWLCA All-American on Wednesday. Northwestern's leading scorer was joined by Taylor Thornton on the first team, senior Gabriella Flibotte made the second team, and goalie Bridget Bianco is a third team All-American. Thornton became the second NU player ever to be named an All-American four times (the other is Kristen Kjellman). My only gripe would be that Kerri Harrington wasn't honored, but her defensive capabilities aren't captured well in stats.

Penn State eked out a 14-13 victory over Canisius in the first round before beating UMass 12-9 last week to reach the quarterfinals. The Nittany Lions are seeking their first trip to the Final Four since 1999. They are coached by Missy Doherty, who roomed with Kelly Amonte Hiller when the two played at Maryland.

Pen State is led by second team All-Americans Kelly Lechner and Maggie McCormick. McCormick has 49 goals and 35 assists on the season, while Lechner is second on the team in goals with 46. She leads the teams with 49 draw controls. Mackenzie Cyr is also a dynamic offensive player with 32 goals and 34 assists. The Nittany Lions have three other players with at least 26 goals and have the 14th best scoring offense in the country.

Northwestern has a penchant for stopping good offensive teams this season, giving up under 8 goals a game. In two games against a Penn State team that is averaging 13.30 goals a contest this year, NU allowed a combined 11 goals. The big question in this one is the status of Alyssa Leonard. I haven't seen anything on her, which I'm hoping is good news for NU. The junior from Bay Shore, New York left last weekend's game against Stanford after a collision with Megan Lerner in the second half and did not return. She walked off the field without any help and the 'Cats were up big at the time, so it may have been a precautionary measure.

The game will be the first NCAA tournament meeting between Penn State and Northwestern. It will also be the first time Kelly Amonte Hiller will have faced the same team three times in a season as the coach of Northwestern. Penn State had more success against NU's defense the second time these two teams met. If they handle Northwestern's pressure defense like they did in that match-up, expect another close game.

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