Our #4-ranked Wildcats handily dispatched Boston College, 17-10, on Wednesday in the home opener at tropical Lakeside Field, making it 200 career wins for head coach Kelly Amonte Hiller, so congrats to her and the team.
NU now heads back onto the road this weekend, heading to B'more on Saturday to play #12 Johns Hopkins, and then to Annapolis on Monday to play unranked Navy. Saturday's game at 11 a.m. CT is being streamed online by Johns Hopkins, while Monday's game at 3 p.m. CT is being televised by CBS College Sports Network.
As you know, Northwestern dropped its first game of the season a couple of weekends ago to then-#5 North Carolina. While the loss was not entirely stunning, given UNC's pedigree in the sport, the Wildcat program has been so dominant that its rare losses still come as a bit of a surprise. After all, since NU began its string of seven NCAA championships in eight years in 2005, the Wildcats have lost a mere 10 games total, while winning 172. (UNC, by the way, has dealt NU three of those losses, tying Florida for the most wins over NU in that span.)
Probably the most remarkable thing about those 10 losses is that just one came to a team that wasn't ranked #6 or higher -- a headscratching 12-11 loss in 2011 to unranked Johns Hopkins. That loss to Hopkins is also the only time in that span that NU has lost two games in a row (NU fell to #6 Florida the game before).
Let's take a look at NU's losses year by year and see how those seasons played out.
2005: NU goes undefeated, winning its first national championship
2006: NU was 10-0, when it lost to #4 Duke, 16-10, halting a 31-game winning streak. NU would go undefeated the rest of the way, beating Duke, 11-10 in overtime, in the rematch in the NCAA semifinals.
2007: NU loses the season opener to No. 4 UNC, 9-8 in overtime. The Wildcats go undefeated the rest of the way and win their third national title.
2008: This time, the loss came in the final regular season game, 11-7, to #5 Penn. As in 2006, NU would take the rematch when it mattered most, beating Penn in the NCAA championship game, 10-6.
2009: NU goes undefeated, giving Kelly Amonte Hiller a ring for her thumb.
2010: NU was 12-0 when it lost to #2 UNC, 18-16. Once again, NU would thump UNC in the rematch, 15-10, in the NCAA semifinals, but in the championship game, NU would fall to Maryland, 13-11.
2011: NU was again 12-0, when it lost to #6 Florida, 13-11, and then followed it up with a stinker of a 12-11 loss to unranked Johns Hopkins. The Wildcats would exact their revenge on Florida in the American Lacrosse Conference championship game, beating the Gators 10-9, and then winning its sixth national title a few weeks later.
2012: NU was 14-0 when it lost to nemesis #5 Florida, 8-7. And then for the first time ever, the Wildcats lost to the same team twice in the same year, when #3 Florida handily beat NU, 14-7, in the ALC championship game. But NU would get the last laugh, as it would win its seventh national title, when Florida lost its chance for a third match-up against NU by losing in the semifinals.
2013 so far: NU was 2-0 when it lost to UNC. But the ship appears righted for now, with NU posting convincing wins over Vanderbilt and Boston College.
So what's the lesson out of all of this? Aside from Florida in 2012, NU does not lose twice to the same team. Now obviously, past years' performance is not necessarily an indicator of future performance, but Kelly Amonte Hiller is widely hailed as being one of the most innovative coaches in the game, and I'm sure that is a part of that. Since rematches only occur in the postseason, NU likely will only have to worry about UNC at the earliest in the NCAA quarterfinals, and I'm sure Hiller and her coaching staff will find a few wrinkles when they review the game tape, if they haven't already.
Looking ahead at the rest of the schedule, the Wildcats will have several severe tests ahead, including a murderous month that starts with #5 Syracuse on March 30, #7 Penn State on April 5, #8 Virginia on April 7, #6 Duke on April 12, #2 Florida on April 20 and #10 Notre Dame on April 24.
Hiller likes to schedule tough to prepare her team for the postseason, and given the Wildcats' losses to graduation, many people feel NU is ripe to be toppled. We'll see how the Wildcats emerge from that tough slate.