Picture it: serene waves lapping against the large painted rocks. Giant trees gently swaying in a light spring breeze. The hazy outline of downtown Chicago rising in the distance.
For many, this would be an ideal vacation destination. For the Northwestern women’s lacrosse team, this is home.
“I think we’re super lucky and sometimes we forget how lucky we are to play on this field, on the lake, with the Chicago skyline behind us,” senior Erin Fitzgerald said. ”I’m really going to miss Lakeside Field.”
Seven seniors will step on this field for the last time on Saturday when No. 2 NU takes on No. 7 Penn State in an NCAA quarterfinal matchup.
These seniors have won two National Championships. They’ve accumulated an 80-8 overall record, including 40-2 at home. But they’re also the only ones on the team who know the feeling of a National Championship defeat, something that they would like to convey to the younger players.
“We have those feelings in the back of our mind and we’re not going to let that happen again,” senior Ali Cassera said. “It’s just trying to instill that in the underclassmen and letting them know that it sucks. It’s just making sure everyone’s bringing their A game every day and preparing for this home stretch.”
That starts on Saturday with the Nittany Lions, against whom the Wildcats have matched up twice already this year.
In the first meeting, NU dominated en route to an 11-3 victory. The second meeting was much closer, too close for the Cats’ taste. Penn State came back with three goals in the second half of the ALC Tournament semifinals while holding NU to just one goal after halftime. That left the score tied at eight at the end of regulation, forcing the Cats to play their first overtime game of the year. Senior Amanda Macaluso came up clutch with the game-winner, sending NU to the ALC Championship match against Florida, which they won.
“That last outing with them adds a little motivation and has pushed us harder,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve just been working ten times harder than we’ve ever worked before this past week. It’s actually been a lot of fun.”
Senior Taylor Thornton and junior Kerri Harrington, NU’s defensive specialists, will play a big part in keeping the Nittany’s Lion’s fourteenth-ranked offense in check this time around. But in this third matchup, coach Kelly Amonte Hiller doesn’t expect any surprises. The winner will be the one who executes the basics the best.
“They know us really well, we know them really well. I think at this point it’s just about going out there and competing,” she said. “The girls have really been taking their preparation serious. I’m really excited about it, just to have the opportunity to be with them for a whole other week. We’re looking to do the best we can to extend it another week beyond that.”