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NU slows down pace, UNC attack, to top No. 1 Heels

Stellar defense and patient offense helped No. 7 Northwestern (6-3) upset No. 1 North Carolina (11-1) 7-5 at Lakeside Field on Monday afternoon.

The Wildcats snapped UNC’s 15-game winning streak and avenged last season’s NCAA semifinal loss to the Tar Heels.

NU executed coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s game plan perfectly. Junior goalie Bridget Bianco and the Northwestern defense limited UNC’s two prolific scorers and shut down an offense that has averaged over 18 goals per game. On offense the ‘Cats took their time on every possession, limiting turnovers and fast break opportunities for the Tar Heels.

“We had to neutralize their offense because they’re very very potent offensively,” Amonte Hiller said. “We really put it together today for all 60 minutes. It’s a huge win.”

NU jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead early and never trailed the rest of the way. Senior Alyssa Leonard scored all of her game-high three goals in the first half, including one diving finish with just six seconds left in the half to pace the ‘Cats to a 5-2 halftime lead.

In the second half Northwestern continued to shorten the game with lengthy possessions. The 'Cats took just two shots in the entire second period. Both found the back of the net. Early insurance goals from senior Kat DeRonda and sophomore Kaleigh Craig gave NU its biggest lead, 7-3, with 24 minutes remaining in the game.

With just over 12 minutes left and the score 7-4, UNC senior All-American Abbey Friend had a chance in transition to put the Tar Heels within two goals, but Bianco made a huge save on her knees to kill UNC’s momentum.

With about 10 minutes left UNC ratcheted up its defensive pressure but failed to force enough turnovers. Two yellow cards, one given to UNC coach Jenny Levy, left UNC shorthanded down the stretch and stifled any sort of comeback.

The ‘Cats held UNC’s top two scorers, Friend (40 goals) and sophomore standout Aly Messinger (33 goals) to just one combined goal. NU defensive specialist Kerri Harrington faceguarded Messinger for all 60 minutes.

UNC has averaged over 35 shots per contest but only mustered 12 to NU’s 14. Bianco was a force in net, saving six UNC shots in key moments.

“Even though we had a bit of a rocky start we’ve come together and focused on a common goal,” Bianco said after the win. “We’ve come extremely far since the beginning of the season.”

With the win, Northwestern lacrosse captured its 300th victory. Amonte Hiller has 221 of those. The ‘Cats also moved to 4-1 against opponents ranked in the top 10 this season. Amonte Hiller's team has rebounded nicely since losing three of four earlier this month.

The ‘Cats continue ALC play at Penn State Friday.