The sign of a good team is the ability to pull out games even on an off day. Undeniably, Northwestern is a good team.
The Wildcats turned the ball over too many times, could not maintain offensive rhythm and allowed too much pressure near their goal, but they earned the victory Sunday afternoon against No. 15 Stanford, 12-8.
“We really had a quick turnaround (after Duke),” coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. “We knew they were fast and athletic.We just need to do a better job offensively of creating better shots for ourselves, taking care of the ball, and just finishing our opportunities.”
Both teams were able to effectively neutralize the other’s biggest offensive threat. Stanford double-teamed senior Erin Fitzgerald all afternoon, though Fitzgerald was still able to break through for two goals, but the Cardinal kept the midfielder from recording her fifth straight hat trick.
Rachel Ozer, Stanford’s leading scorer with 28 goals this season, did not record a goal or assist thanks to junior Kerri Harrington, who defended the junior attacker throughout the match.
“I think that the defense came out and they really competed (in the second half),” Amonte Hiller said. “They did a great job locking down and stopping their matchups and just playing like a team.”
Stanford (8-4, 3-1 MPSF) started the game on a 3-1 run before No. 4 NU (13-1, 4-0 ALC) scored five straight goals to take a 6-3 lead.
The Cats finally found some offensive rhythm midway through the first half. Senior Amanda Macaluso tied the game at three, shooting and scoring despite being fouled hard in front of the net. Senior Taylor Thornton gave the Cats their first lead of the game, a rocket shot into the goal with 16 minutes left before halftime.
Seniors Ali Cassera and Beatrice Conley each added a score before Stanford halted the NU streak with two goals of their own.
Both teams knocked into two more to go to halftime with NU leading 8-7.
After the break, NU switched to a man defense, Thornton said, which resulted in Stanford scoring only one goal in the second half. The Cats, though still committing some sloppy mistakes—six turnovers in the second half—scored five goals in the after the break to pull away from the Cardinal. They also outshot Stanford 18-7 after halftime.
Though the match highlighted some key areas needing improvement, it also gave Cats another taste of the level of intensity that the playoffs will bring in a few weeks.
“The harder the better,” Thornton said. “Going from now on, we only have (three) more guaranteed games left in our regular season so it’s only going to help us down in postseason.”
NU has three matches left in the regular season, starting with a huge test against No. 3 Florida, who defeated NU 14-7 in last year’s ALC Championship game.
“To be great next week against a team like Florida,” Amonte Hiller said, “we just need to play like a team and rely on each other, both offensively and defensively, in the midfield, everything.”