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Lacrosse: NU vs. BC, NCAA tournament 1st round preview

NU hosts upstart BC on Saturday in the first round of the NCAA tournament in a tale of contrasting programs. While Boston College (12-6) is making its first-ever appearance in the tournament, Northwestern (17-2) is in its eighth straight tournament and looking to win its sixth NCAA title in seven years.

On paper, the No. 2-seeded Wildcats should be greatly favored against the unseeded Eagles. In nearly every team statistical category — goals scored per game, goals against per game, shots, ground ball controls and draw controls — the Wildcats are the superior team. But as we saw in NU’s loss to unranked Johns Hopkins earlier this year, anything can happen.

Game time is 3 p.m. CT Saturday, and if you’re in the Chicago area, tickets are $8 for adults, $5 for students and children. If you can’t make the game, it’ll be streamed live online at NUsports.com for free and rebroadcast on the BigTen Network at 6 p.m. Sunday.

NU and BC didn’t meet in the regular season this year, but they did scrimmage in suburban Boston during the fall. Either nobody in the NU lacrosse program remembers the score, or nobody’s telling, and I haven’t been able to find any accounts of the scrimmage.

The Wildcats and Eagles did play three common opponents this year: North Carolina, Duke and Virginia. While NU beat all three, BC lost against North Carolina and Duke and won against Virginia.

BC, which is ranked No. 13 in the IWLCA coaches poll, is led by senior midfielder Kristin Igoe (42 goals, 17 assists), and junior attacker Brittany Wilton (39 goals, 16 assists). On defense, senior Jill Rekart is a stalwart, and in goal, senior Sheila Serafino is the starter (8.94 goals against average).

For the Wildcats, junior attacker and Tewaaraton Trophy finalist Shannon Smith leads the way offensively with 68 goals and 38 assists. Her 106 points are tops in the NCAA. Sophomore attacker/midfielder Erin Fitzgerald is second on the team in scoring with 32 goals and 6 assists. On defense, sophomore Taylor Thornton, also a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist, is the team’s best athlete, and senior Colleen Magarity is a steady presence. In goal, junior Brianne "Breezy" LoManto has an 8.45 goals against average.

The game could very well be decided in the draw circle. NU leads the NCAA with 16.32 draw controls per game, winning 65.8 percent of all its draws. Freshman Alyssa Leonard, who has tied a school record with three 10-draw control performances this year, ranks fifth in the NCAA with 4.16 draw controls per game. Junior Alex Frank ranks fifth in the NCAA with 3.11. 

But BC’s Wilton is no slouch, ranking second in the NCAA in 5.17 draw controls per game.

BC associate head coach Acacia Walker was an NU assistant from 2005-2008 under head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, adding an interesting wrinkle to the match-up.

Winner of the game will advance to the quarterfinals to meet the winner of Sunday’s match between No. 7-seeded Albany and Dartmouth.