by Callie Counsellor (@CCounsellor)
Northwestern stumbled out of the gate against No. 5 North Carolina, losing 11-8 in a matchup of title contenders. However, the Wildcats got back on track just two days later, defeating Vanderbilt 15-8 in the first conference game of the season.
Apparently, even the defending national champions can’t spot an opponent a six-goal lead and expect to come back. No. 1 Northwestern (3-1, 1-0 ALC) found that out the hard way against North Carolina (3-1) on Friday night, as the Tar Heels turned a 1-1 game into a 7-1 lead less than 15 minutes into the match.
NU did not help its own cause with nine turnovers in the first half.
“We just made some really poor plays in the first half,” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “Bad decisions, (we) weren’t coming up with the fifty-fifty ball. That’s just going to eat away at you when you play good teams.”
The Cats did begin a comeback to close the first half, pulling within 7-4, courtesy of goals from senior Erin Fitzgerald, who was named to the Tewaaraton Award Watch List this week; senior Ali Cassera; and junior Kelly Rich.
Both teams started the second half with runs—North Carolina a two-goal streak to restore a five-goal lead, and NU a three-goal run to cut the lead to two with 20 minutes remaining in the game.
Junior Alyssa Leonard scored one of those three goals and added another with 14 minutes remaining to lead the Cats in scores. She also won 12 draw controls in the match to give her 37 for the young season, over half of the team’s total draw control wins.
The Tar Heels were able to hold on, though, thanks to several saves by freshman goalkeeper Megan Ward in the final minutes.
“Luckily we have another great opportunity Sunday,” senior Taylor Thornton said after Friday’s game. “I just think we need to take this feeling and bottle it up and every time we play, you have to feel that and remember this and never want to feel it again.”
NU looked like a team on a mission Sunday against Vanderbilt (1-4, 0-1) in its first conference game of the year, led by a quartet of upperclassmen. Senior Amanda Macaluso tallied career-bests with five points and three goals. Leonard also set a career-best with four goals and Thornton won five draw controls. Senior Gabriella Flibotte dominated the midfield with four ground balls, four draw controls and four caused turnovers, as well as a goal.
The Cats controlled much of the first half play to lead 7-3 at the break, but it was a 7-0 run at the beginning of the second half, including two from Macaluso, that put the game away for NU.
“We started to get some momentum,” Amonte Hiller said. “We were coming up with draw controls and Taylor (Thornton) and Gabby (Flibotte) did a great job on the draw stick. I was really excited how explosive we were offensively.”
The win elevated Amonte Hiller’s all-time record to 199-31, meaning she will go for win No. 200 in the Cats’ home-opener on Wednesday against No. 20 Boston College (2-1). The Eagles suffered their first loss of the season on Saturday at the hands of No. 13 Ohio State.
“We’ve been on the road a bit,” Amonte Hiller said, “(so) it’s nice to have weekend where we don’t have to travel and really test ourselves against a good, young Boston College team.”