The last time we checked in with NU's top-ranked women's lacrosse team in February, they were 3-0 on the season after dispatching then-No. 9 Syracuse in OT on the road. In the four weeks since, the Wildcats haven't slowed down a bit. They're still undefeated, having romped past Oregon, Louisville, William & Mary, No. 19 Massachusetts, No. 11 Vanderbilt and Navy to go 9-0, and they're still ranked No. 1.
Up next for NU is a big Saturday match against Ohio State on the big stage at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Mass., home of the New England Patriots. NU President Morty Shapiro's friendship with the Kraft family, which owns the Patriots, along with head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's connections with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose daughter is also an assistant lacrosse coach for Ohio State, helped set up the game. This will be the second year in a row that NU has played a game in an NFL stadium, as last year the Wildcats beat William & Mary at Cowboys Stadium in Dallas.
As befits a No. 1 team, the Wildcats are getting the job done on both ends of the field. Their potent offense ranks 4th in the nation at 16.0 goals per game, and their defense is ranked 1st, giving up only 6.33 goals per game.
Individually, senior attacker Shannon Smith hasn't shown any signs of being slowed by an ankle injury she suffered against William & Mary, as she continues to dominate, leading the team with 32 goals. Her 3.56 goals per game average is good for sixth in the NCAA. She is 30 goals shy of the NU career record of 250, held by Kristen Kjellman.
While Smith last year was often the team's lone offensive weapon, the Wildcats now have more scoring depth, with the emergence of Erin Fitzgerald and Kara Mupo. Fitzgerald (21 goals) is on a hot streak, with two straight four-goal games, while Mupo (17 goals) has scored five times in a game twice this year.
Alyssa Leonard remains a force in draw controls, and the defense is led by two-way threats Taylor Thornton (13 goals) and Lacey Vigmostad (6 goals). In goal, Brianne LoManto leads the NCAA by a wide margin in goals-against average, at 5.70.
Senior midfielder Alex Frank and Amonte Hiller took questions from reporters yesterday on their upcoming game at Gillette Stadium (both are from the Boston area), the keys to their success so far this year, and the recent announcement of assistant coach Amy Elliott as Colorado's new head coach. Hit the jump to see what they had to say.
HEAD COACH KELLY AMONTE HILLER
On the emergence of secondary scorers to complement Shannon Smith:
"That's something we had hoped for last year. We were pretty young in general, particularly on attack. Shannon had to take the brunt of the work. I feel as though, basically, the team has really developed. Some of these players have gotten a lot of confidence from their performance last year. We're excited about it."
On defenders Taylor Thornton and Lacey Vigmostad being two-way threats:
"This is probably the most veteran we've been defensively, since maybe 2005 with the Koester twins. We are also asking them to take some of the offensive load, particularly Lacey and Taylor. They're running some shifts for us, and they've been scoring from the back. We feel confident in their abilities both offensively and defensively."
On whether she and Bill Belichick have traded notes on leading winning programs:
"Not too much. My husband and I went up to practice at the end of the summer and kind of talked with him and spent some time with him. We're a little bit familiar. I'm sure his heart is with Ohio State for this game."
On assistant coach Ann Elliot being named head coach of Colorado:
"She's not at Colorado [yet]. She's with us until the end of the season. She's really dynamic. She's matured a ton since she first started with us as a player and now to being a coach and getting a head coaching position. She's really smart with the X's and O's. She really helps come up with our defensive game plan and what strategy we're going to put forth against the other team. She's very good with player relations, technology, really cutting edge and smart, and Colorado's very fortunate to get someone like Ann. She cares a lot about sport and the development of the sport. But for now, she's really invested for the rest of the season and wants to help us win a championship."
On how NU was able to schedule games at NFL stadiums the last two years:
"In Dallas, we had one of our top players, Taylor Thornton, from that area, so we wanted to try to do a game there. I had a friend who coaches high school in the area. When I told her we wanted to do a game in Texas, she said, ‘Do you want to see if you could talk to the guys in Dallas and do it at Cowboys Stadium?' I was like, ‘Yeah!' It kind of worked out that she had some connections that we were able to do it. This year, obviously knowing Bill Belichick, and also our president of our university, Morty Shapiro, is close friends with the Krafts, that was helpful to getting us in. It's pretty cool that it's women's only events, too. I feel we're kind of trailblazing. It's exciting for our student athletes. Last year was a single game, and then this year is a doubleheader." (Syracuse and Harvard will also play at Gillette Stadium.)
On whether NU would ever play a game at Soldier Field or Wrigley Field:
"There hasn't been any talk of that yet. I think maybe long-term, but right now, we're just focusing on this year, and we'll see where it leads for next year."
SENIOR MIDFIELDER ALEX FRANK
On what it's like to play in an NFL stadium:
"It's definitely overwhelming thinking about how large the stadium is. Once you're in the game, it kind of goes away. We've really been focused on being in the game when we're on the field. Definitely when we step out there, it'll be amazing to be in an arena like Gillette. Being from Boston it's kind of awesome to get that opportunity. But once you're in the game, you focus on one play a time."
On playing on the field of her hometown NFL team:
"Yes, I'm a pretty big Patriots fan. I went to the game on Christmas Eve. It's always an amazing experience watching the Patriots play. Having watched men's [lacrosse] Final Four there when I was in high school, getting the opportunity to play there is something I'll never forget."
On how last year's game at Cowboys Stadium has the team prepared for what to expect:
"Last year's experience was incredible. It's hard to give it one word or even the feeling or emotion. It was amazing being able to play on that field. It was so cool and so surreal. Playing in that big field and surroundings will help. [But] it's outside, and there's not that large screen like there was in Dallas."