"Win the draw, rule the world," as coach Kelly Amonte Hiller likes to say. After Northwestern's 17-6 drubbing of Michigan Thursday evening in Ann Arbor, it's easy to see why.
No. 6 Northwestern (7-3, 1-1) won 23 of the 27 draw controls to dominate time of possession. The Wildcats used a 5-0 run to end the first half and take an 11-3 lead into the break to solidify their hold on the game. Senior Kara Mupo continued her superb play of late with four goals while freshman phenom Selena Lasota added four goals in the first half and two more in the second half to tie her career-high with six. Junior Kaleigh Craig also had a hat trick in the first half.
This was a memorable game for a few reasons: the Wildcat's first ever Big Ten conference victory along with two freshmen, Hayley Ciklin and Iona Dryden–who hails from the British Isles–scoring their first career goals.
The Wildcats used a dominant first half to put the game out of reach, going 5 out of 6 on free position shots and winning every draw control but one. Amonte Hiller may have found her answer in the draw circle, as freshman Shelby Fredericks put in a dominant performance, winning practically every single time. Northwestern has long been known as a school that dominates the draw control. Amonte Hiller was a draw control specialist in her day and Alyssa Leonard, the NCAA's all-time leader in draw controls won, graduated from Northwestern last year.
This was always going to be a tough game for the Wolverines (5-6, 0-2) to win, given that this is only the second season of varsity lacrosse at the school. A rainy night in Ann Arbor that led to a turnover-prone game didn't help. In addition, the Michigan team is composed of 35 underclassmen and zero upperclassmen, so when No. 6 Northwestern comes to town, some jitters are to be expected.
The Wolverines hung tough though throughout most of the first half, despite barely having any time with the ball. It's hard to win if it's pretty much make-it-take-it with your opponent when they win almost all of the draw controls. When Michigan had the ball, it demonstrated good ball movement and quickly moved up the field. This will soon be a much tougher yearly trek to the Big House for the Wildcats.
The biggest takeaway from this game against such a young team has to be the draw control dominance. The Wildcats have cycled through a few options this year in trying to find a player with the right touch for the draw control, perhaps the most important part of women's lacrosse. Amonte Hiller may have found her long-term solution as hopefully this is the beginning of freshman Shelby Fredericks coming into her own.
Because there is no shot clock in women's lacrosse, the draw control takes on added importance. A team could score, win the draw control and sit on the ball for the rest of the game. Especially when the postseason comes around and the game starts to slow down, the Wildcats are hoping Fredericks can continue her fine play in the center circle. One of the reasons the team struggled against No. 1 Maryland last week was getting dominated in the draw controls and looking ahead to a potential rematch late in championship weekend, the key to a more even matchup might be Fredericks.
This was the first ever Big Ten conference win for the Wildcats and that alone makes it special. After a brutal past few games against three straight top-20 teams, it was good to see the team play loose and effective in a road game in rainy conditions. Two of their next three are also against ranked teams, with No. 11 Penn coming to Evanston Sunday before the Wildcats take on No. 9 Stony Brook the Sunday after that.