This group of seniors is used to the spotlight, with a National Championship appearance in all four years, and they showed yet again that they thrive under the pressure.
A week ago, the Wildcats suffered the worst loss in the program’s history, a 22-4 defeat at the hands of No. 3 Florida. NU bounced back against Notre Dame but struggled through the game, finally winning 10-8.
On Saturday, No. 4 NU (15-2, 4-1 ALC) started and finished strong and played efficiently for the other 50 minutes to lock down a 15-8 victory against No. 16 (9-5, 7-0 Ivy League) Penn on Senior Day.
In terms of statistics, seniors Erin Fitzgerald and Taylor Thornton will be the most missed next season, and they showed why on Saturday afternoon.
Thornton scored a goal on a coast-to-coast run, using her speed to break through the defense. The senior utilized that speed on defense, anchoring a unit that held Meredith Cain, Penn’s second-leading scorer, to only two goals.
Fitzgerald had another four-goal day.
While the day was a showcase of the seniors, fans also got a taste of the future of NU lacrosse, with freshmen Nancy Dunbar and Kaleigh Craig each scoring a goal.
Despite solid play from Thornton and Fitzgerald, the Cats could not put the Quakers away until the final minutes. With NU leading 11-5 in the second half, Penn knocked out three straight goals to cut the lead to three with 13 minutes left.
Sophomore Jess Carroll halted the Penn momentum with a score and Craig scored her goal a few minutes later to regain a five-goal lead for the Cats.
After a draw control win, NU played keep away and ran out the clock with little pressure from Penn. An attempt at some pressure from the Quakers resulted in a yellow card and one man-advantage for the Cats.
Fitzgerald added another goal with three minutes left to effectively put the game out of reach. For good measure, senior Alexa deLyra scored her first goal of the season in the last game of her career. Her last goal was two years ago against Vanderbilt.
It appeared as though the game was going to be out of reach early, with three goals in the first two and a half minutes for NU.
Alyssa Leonard started the scoring, followed by senior Beatrice Conley 30 seconds later. Leonard notched her second goal of the match just 24 seconds after that to give NU a 3-0 lead before three minutes had ticked off the clock.
Fitzgerald scored the next three goals for the Cats, but Penn finally found some offensive rhythm to cut the lead to 6-3 at halftime.
Like the first half, NU started the second with three goals in less than three minutes to extend the lead to 9-3.
Penn fought back but NU was able to hold the lead.
The Cats will play the winner of Penn State-Vanderbilt, who play Thursday, in the semifinals of the ALC Tournament.