Our Wildcats have the week off from competition, following a weekend in which they suffered their first loss, 11-8, to #5 North Carolina, as the Wildcats fell behind 7-1 and never seemed to recover. But NU then followed up with a 15-8 win over Vanderbilt to open up conference play, with the Wildcats using a 7-0 run early in the second half to pull away.
NU will next take the field on Wednesday in the home opener at Lakeside Field, against Boston College.
I had a chance to talk to NU defender Taylor Thornton this week. Thornton's all-around skills are such that if you're looking at the NU stat sheet, she doesn't necessarily stand out. She's not one of the team's top offensive go-to players, so you don't find her atop the scoring column.
Watch her on the field, though, and #9 easy to pick out. She's amazingly fast and athletic, and she flies all over the field. Her defensive prowess has her tied for the team lead in caused turnovers and second in ground ball controls.
It's not often a primarily defensive player gets consideration for player of the year honors, but the awards-giving-out people love Thornton. She was named Lacrosse Magazine's preseason player of the year this winter, after winning the Lacrosse Honda Sports Award as national player of the year last season and being a Tewaaraton Trophy finalist. She also has a starring role in the NU lacrosse ad that you might have seen on BTN.
Here's what she had to say about the season so far and her experience at NU.
SoP: Let's start off with last weekend. You guys had a tough loss to North Carolina. What happened there?
TT: I just think we got off to a pretty slow start, dug ourselves in a hole with unforced errors, shot ourselves in a foot. We tried to come back in the end, which showed a lot of heart, but just didn't finish through in the end.
SoP: Then you guys rebounded well against Vandy. That had to have felt good coming off that loss.
TT: Yeah, that did. I think it was a good win for us to play with a chip on our shoulder, kind of refocus. But we've still got a lot to work on.
SoP: You guys have been so successful that losses are such a rare occurrence. I know coach Hiller uses them as a learning experience. What has she been telling you guys since that UNC game?
TT: Definitely we're not just taking it as a loss and moving on. She's been teaching us things we need to be improving on, we know we're not just going to win games because we have Northwestern on our jersey. If we want to win, we have to get it and stop being so complacent.
SoP: You guys have your home opener on Wednesday. Is it nice to be home now after going on the road your first four games?
TT: Yeah that will be nice on Wednesday, playing a good opponent in Boston College. This week, it's still early, but it's a different kind of vibe in practice, but hopefully it'll translate next week.
SoP: You were named preseason player of the year by Lacrosse Magazine, which is a huge honor. How'd that make you feel?
TT: It is definitely a big honor, but it's one where I have to do work on the field. It's not going to help me play better just because I was named that. I appreciate it, but there's still a lot of work to do and grow as a player.
SoP: Are you seeing tighter defense played against you, given the national attention you've gotten? How are you reacting to that?
TT: A little bit. It depends. I haven't been faceguarded every game. But I think that maybe I'm just a little more on their radar, but not much more than usual.
SoP: You guys lost a lot of big-time seniors from last year, like Shannon Smith, who was your go-to scorer, and solid defensive players like Alex Frank. How's the team dealing with those losses?
TT: They were definitely an influential class, but a lot of the underclassmen have stepped up in a major way, filling their shoes. I think we have some great younger kids who are helping on the offensive attacking end. It's great when you look at the scoresheet and we have scorers all across the board, instead of just one or two players like last year.
SoP: What's different about this team compared to last year?
TT: I think we're maybe a little faster, working on trying to push things in transition and having a smoother offense. I think we can take some more chances on defense. This group has a lot of potential, but it's something where we're going to have to work hard to be great.
SoP: You're from Texas, which isn't exactly a lacrosse hotbed. How'd get interested in lacrosse?
TT: I just got into it during the 7th grade, really because my friends were playing it, and just stuck with it from there.
SoP: Why'd you choose Northwestern?
TT: It came late. I didn't really commit until October of my senior year. And, Kelly was great. I went out to a camp the summer before my senior year. I really liked it, I got to see the school. I'm telling you, NU was never on my radar. I remember kinda of telling my dad, ‘Yeah right I could never play there.' But I ended up here. Kelly was my first call July 1 when coaches could call you back then.
SoP: What are you majoring in, and what do you want to do after college?
TT: I'm majoring in communications and minoring in business. Hopefully I'll work for a company like ESPN or Nike, but I don't have anything definite as of now.