After a stunning two-game losing streak a little over three weeks ago, the No. 2 Wildcats look like they’ve gotten back on track, running off a five-game winning streak to close out the regular season, including their fifth straight American Lacrosse Conference tournament championship.
Now, the Wildcats prep for their first-round NCAA tournament matchup against No. 13 Boston College. The two teams didn’t meet in the regular season, though they scrimmaged against each other in the fall.
We'll have a full preview up later this week, but I got a chance to talk to NU junior midfielder/attacker Alex Frank yesterday after practice to get some insights on how the team is gearing up for the postseason. While none of her answers will surprise anybody who’s been following the team, Frank, a Tewaaraton Trophy watch list nominee and first-team All-ALC selection, does talk about how the team responded to the losing streak and the pretty harsh criticism from head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller.
SoP: You’re matched up against
AF: We actually played them in the fall in
SoP: What kind of things have you guys been working on in practice so far, and what are some of those areas you’re hoping to improve?
AF: Just continuing what we’ve been working on these past few weeks, being poised and under control. Being confident and knowing that when you have the ball, you’re in command, and not to rush or force things. We’re such a great team that it’ll come to us as we work the ball around and move it hard.
SoP: Since you guys hit that rough patch about a month back, losing to
AF: I think just all the practices we’ve been having and really getting back to what Northwestern lacrosse is all about, working hard and pushing each other. Like I said, we’ve been focused on being poised and controlled. It’s really definitely changed our game a lot, and you can tell from how we’ve played recently.
SoP: After that loss to Johns Hopkins, coach Amonte Hiller had some pretty harsh words for the team, saying you guys had wasted a lot of time. How did those words go over with the team?
AF: Obviously it’s kind of a motivation to us because we know we wasted time, not being where we should have been at that point in the season. For us, it meant we’re going to have to work that much harder and do much more work, so that we’re ready for the rest of the season. We’ve had people working on stuff outside of practice, inside of practice, everybody really wanting it for each other.
SoP: She also made some adjustments to the lineup, putting some more veterans on attack, to bring in some more poise, as you said. How has that impacted the team?
AF: It’s some new faces, a different look, and having older people on attack definitely brings that sense of calm and confidence. We’ve been in those situations where, when things are going really fast, we can settle it down and regroup and get back to our game plan. Our young kids are doing so great recently that they’re realizing that poise and confidence comes from being in control, and are really stepping up. She’s put a few in the attack, and it’s shown.
SoP: You’ve played both midfield and attack for the team. Do you have a preference on what position you’d rather play?
AF: Personally, I like midfield. I’m more a defensive minded player, and I like being on the defensive end. But having the opportunity to play attack and being up there on that end is awesome and a lot of fun.
SoP: I know you guys don’t like to look too far ahead, but have you guys looked at the NCAA bracket and seen what your path is to the Final Four and the championship? Seems like it’s a pretty favorable draw for you guys.
AF: I think every team in the postseason this year is real good. I don’t think anybody has an easy route. Everybody that has made it has shown they’re there for a reason. On any given day, whichever team comes with more heart, they’re going to win. For us, we just need to remember that we’ve worked hard, and if we come in with heart and confidence, we should be fine.
SoP: The team has had a pattern this season of falling behind and having to come back to win. The
AF: Obviously, we never want that to happen, we never want to be down, but in practice, our coach will say, ‘OK, you’re down by two, with this amount of time left.’ She puts us in scenarios so that when we are in the game situation, we know what to expect and we can do it. We know we need to catch up, and everybody flips the switch, where we say, ‘We’re down by three, we need goals, we need to score, we’re not going to lose this game.’
SoP: What’s it like to play for coach Amonte Hiller? She’s got a real intense on-field demeanor.
AF: She’s great. She’s the best at what she does, and she prepares us so well. The intensity she brings really translates to us on the field, and how we’ve been playing shows what she’s done. She’s the best.
SoP: Is there an aspect of coach Amonte Hiller that might surprise someone who doesn’t get to see how she is outside of games?
AF: That’s a good question. [laughs] Actually, I don’t think I have an answer, because what you see is what you get. She’s extremely positive and passionate and very confident in herself and our team. She’s very knowledgeable and intense, all at the same time. Everything she does, I don’t think there’s anything she hides. It’s all out there.
SoP: What made you decide to come to Northwestern? Obviously, having your older sister [Meredith, a three-time All-American] at NU must have been a draw, but was there anything else about the program that sold you?
AF: A lot of it was Kelly. She’s a great coach, and I wanted to go to school where I’d continue to learn the game and get better. Also, our team is like no other. The passion our girls have for the sport is hard to find at many other schools. You can get one or two girls any day who want to go shoot or play around. A lot of people, they only play during practice, but we all call each other ‘laxheads’ because that’s what we are. We love the sport, and really, it’s awesome to be around such a great environment. Coming in, you can’t expect a better team. We have great chemistry on and of the field, so that was a big reason, as well.