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DeRonda provides offensive spark as Cats down Vanderbilt, 15-9

Three Northwestern hat tricks propelled the No. 5 Wildcats (9-3, 3-1 ALC) past ALC opponent Vanderbilt (4-9, 1-3 ALC) Thursday afternoon at Lakeside Field.

Senior attacker Kat DeRonda poured in a career-high four goals to pace the Cats, and Alyssa Leonard and sophomore Kaleigh Craig added three goals apiece as NU beat the Commodores for the 13th consecutive time.

The Cats varied the pace at which they played. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller’s squad started with deliberate, lengthy possessions, but had more success forcing a faster tempo.

“We have to play smart and wear teams down and score goals in a lot of different ways,” Amonte Hiller said. “We have to start that by possession and winning draw controls and take advantage of the opportunities we have. We have to shoot a little better, but overall we’re starting to play a little smarter and that’s going to be key for us."

After dominating possession for the first five minutes of the contest, the Cats earned a free possession chance, which DeRonda converted to get NU on the board at the 24:43 mark. Vanderbilt answered five minutes later when freshman midfielder Jill Doherty blew by her defender into the fan and flipped a shot over the right shoulder of junior goalie Bridget Bianco.

Craig scored her 23rd goal of the year on a nifty wrap around finish with 18:30 left in the first period. But the Commodores responded yet again six minutes later when Doherty hooked up with a cutting Amanda Lockwood, who slid a shot under Bianco’s outstretched left leg to tie the game at 2-2.

It appeared as if Northwestern was in for another close, low-scoring defensive battle. But in the last 10 minutes of the first half, NU’s offense caught fire.

Junior Kara Mupo found DeRonda in front of the net for an easy finish. Then, minutes later junior midfielder Jess Carroll took the ball coast to coast and finished her second goal of the season to put the Cats up 4-2 at the 7:42 mark. The pace of play really started to accelerate after Carroll’s goal.

Leonard won the subsequent draw control and scored one herself a minute later. Just 30 seconds later with Vanderbilt playing a man down after a yellow card, Leonard fed the ball to a cutting Mupo, who ripped a shot over the left shoulder of Vandy keeper Maddie Kratz to put NU up 6-2 with six minutes remaining.

Vanderbilt managed to squeak two goals by Bianco in less than a minute to pull within two. But two minutes later DeRonda used a free possession chance to set up Leonard, whose shot was partially deflected but still trickled into the net.

With less than a minute remaining Craig extended NU’s halftime lead to 8-4 when she pretended to circle behind the opposing goal but suddenly spun back and dumped a shot over the keeper.

Craig knifed her way into the fan and fired a cross-body shot into the back of the net to complete her hat trick at the 26:05 mark in the second half. Senior Kate Macdonald added two points, one assist to senior Kristy Turner and one goal of her own, in less than a minute to give the Cats their largest advantage in five games, 11-5.

Leonard and DeRonda traded goals with about 10 minutes left in the game to put the Cats up 14-6. Then NU slowed the pace down again to preserve its lead.

The fluctuations in pace have more to do with defense than offense, according to Macdonald.

“The offense can usually tell when the defense needs a break,” Macdonald said. “Depending on how long we have the ball on defense, we take the opportunity to move the ball around to rest our legs so everyone is fresh.”

The Cats have now beaten Vanderbilt 13 straight times by at least five goals apiece.

NU forced 21 turnovers and outshot the Commodores 32-20 en route to its fifth straight victory.

Northwestern came into Thursday’s game ranked 48th in the nation in scoring offense at just under 11 goals per game. But during the Cats’ current streak (before Thursday), NU has only average 7.25 goals per contest. So what accounted for NU’s scoring “eruption” Thursday?

“All of our goals were after we worked it around a couple times and everyone made their cut-throughs,” Macdonald said. “It was really a team effort.”

“We distributed the ball well,” Amonte Hiller said. “For the most part we executed. We’re excited for Sunday’s game against Hopkins.”