Someone tell Northwestern that this is the tough part of their schedule because they did not get the memo.
The Wildcats dominated to win their fourth straight match over a ranked opponent Friday night and this time, it was No. 9 Duke that fell victim to the Cats, 12-4.
No. 4 NU (12-1, 4-0 ALC) has defeated No. 5 Syracuse, No. 8 Penn State, No. 11 Virginia, and now No. 9 Duke (9-4, 2-3 ACC) within a span of 14 days. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said the back-to-back top competition is exactly what the Cats need to prepare for the playoffs.
“I think that it helps our team get stronger,” she said. “I think that it prepares us for these moments and hopefully, if we get the chance to play in the playoffs it will help us prepare for that moment. It just really helps the girls focus, turn around quickly and be ready, always be ready.”
Against the Blue Devils, NU dominated in every aspect of the game.
Senior Erin Fitzgerald, last week’s ALC player of the week, scored five goals, including four in the first half. The midfielder is now ninth on NU’s all-time scoring list with 175 career goals.
As Fitzgerald moves up the scoring list, junior Alyssa Leonard broke into the top spot of NU’s all-time draw controls leaderboard. With five on Friday night, Leonard passed Kristin Kjellman, a former member of the U.S. Women’s National Lacrosse team.
“It kind of just snuck up on me, I really didn’t know it was happening until a couple days ago,” Leonard said. “I think it’s a cool accomplish. Kristin Kjellman was the one that had it before me and she’s just an unbelievable player. To even be in the same category as her, I don’t even have words to describe how that feels.
The midfielder is also eighth in NCAA history in draw controls and sits only 84 draw controls from the top spot with almost a season and a half left in her career. For reference, Leonard won 83 draw controls in the first 12 games of this season.
In goal, sophomore Bridget Bianco saved five shots and, along with NU’s stifling defense, held the Blue Devils to their lowest goal total of the season. Their previous low had been nine. In her first year as a starter, Bianco has nabbed 78 saves for a .491 save percentage, sixth in the country.
“You have to go in confident, especially playing at such a high level,” Bianco said. “It’s scary, and I was scared in the beginning and nervous but as each game went on, with my teammates help I definitely gained a lot of confidence.”
The Cats put the pressure on from the beginning and never let up. Senior Ali Cassera found the back of the net just over three minutes into the game and freshman Kaleigh Craig followed three minutes later with a score of her own.
Then came a streak of four straight goals from Fitzgerald. Senior Gabby Flibotte added one with nine seconds remaining in the half to give the Cats a 7-0 lead heading into the break.
“Starting with the draw, I think we had a pretty good percentage in the first half coming up with them, and I think that gave us a little momentum to get that started and give our defense a break,” Leonard said. “Our defense played out of their minds today.”
Duke came up with s few more offensive chances in the second half, but they consistently slowed their own momentum with unforced turnovers—six in the second half—and fouls, including three yellow cards after halftime.
NU took advantage of the miscues to earn a big home victory and they will have a chance to dominate another ranked opponent on Sunday. No. 15 Stanford (8-3, 3-1 MPSF) will come to Evanston trying to snap a seven-game losing streak against NU. The Cardinal’s high-powered offense has scored 20 points or more twice this season, something even NU’s prolific offense has not been able to do. Stanford will present a challenge for record-breaker Leonard, as they boast the most draw control wins per game in the country.