The Michigan Wolverines kept things close in the first half, playing aggressively and utilizing their shutdown defense to tame the Wildcats, but in the end, No. 9 Northwestern's talent and ball movement proved overwhelming and they moved on to the Big Ten women's lacrosse semifinals after their 13-9 victory in Piscataway, NJ.
After the drubbing the Wolverines endured the last time these two teams played (Northwestern's first ever Big Ten victory), a neutral fan might expect this game to be in a similar vein. But the young team from Ann Arbor had different ideas, at least in the first half. One of the best teams in the country at forcing turnovers, the sixth-seeded Wolverines forced Northwestern into 17 turnovers, stunting their offensive game plan and allowing themselves to remain in the game, despite dominating in the draw control battle. The Wildcats took a 6-4 lead into the break.
But after that close, hard fought first half, Northwestern pulled away in the second on the back of strong play from junior Kaleigh Craig and freshman Corinne Wessels.
Having come out looking confident and Northwestern's equal in the first half, the inexperienced Michigan team looked timid to start the second period and it cost them. The Wildcats jumped on them right out of the break and the Wolverines would never recover.
Craig scored a hat trick in the first seven minutes of the second half. Wessles, who likes to play behind the goal in coach Kelly Amonte Hiller's system, also had an impressive game. The all-time leader in assists as a high school player, Wessels added two today to go along with a goal to round out maybe her best game as a freshman. Senior Kara Mupo also added a hat trick.
The Wolverines kept things close throughout though and certainly made it a much more competitive game than these two team's contest on April 2. Anna Schueler, a sophomore from Chicago, netted a hat trick for Michigan and goalie Allison Silber had a phenomenal first half, keeping her team in it before struggling somewhat in the second half.
Speaking of goalies, a troubling sign for Amonte Hiller might have been the play of her keeper, senior Bridget Bianco. Though her play improved in the second, you do not want to be going into the NCAAs on the back of poor play from your keeper. While she had some impressive saves, some of the simpler saves eluded her and Michigan was able to score a number of goals from low percentage areas, which is never a good sign.
Although some might be disappointed with the close scoreline at the end of the game, it is important to keep in mind that this is tournament lacrosse and everything is closer and teams are going to fight hard to the end. On the whole, Northwestern looked strong in all facets of the game (with the exception of goalkeeping) and should look to make a deep run in this tournament and the NCAAs in a few weeks. Lasota played more of a facilitator role in this one and that could be a trend that continues as the game usually slows down in tournament play. Teams usually face guard Lasota anyway and with the compact tournament defense, it is going to be harder for her to exploit space and she may have to look to pass more.
In the inaugural Big Ten women's lacrosse tournament, Northwestern moves on to the semifinals against No. 7 Penn State Nittany Lions tomorrow at 4:30 central time. Penn State had a bye in the first round. On the other side of the bracket looms No. 1 Maryland Terrapins and barring a shocking upset, they will be awaiting the winner in the final.