In a tense, defensive battle on a cloudy Saturday afternoon by Lake Michigan, the No. 11 Northwestern women's lacrosse team held on for a dramatic 7-6 victory in its second home game of the season over the No. 10 Stony Brook Seawolves to get back to .500 on the season.
Senior Kaleigh Craig did what seniors are supposed to do, taking charge in the waning minutes of the game and scoring the game winner after a self-start had the Seawolves defense slow to react. It was her second of the day, converting with about eight minutes to go in the game.
With Northwestern president Morton Schapiro in attendance and the team off to its worst start in years, the Wildcats started the game well, jumping out to a 3-1 lead 10 minutes into the game. Throughout most of the first half, the hosts dominated this affair, holding a 9-1 advantage in the draw circle and a 15-9 advantage in shots. If it was not for the superb play of Stony Brook keeper Anna Tesoriero, Northwestern would have had much more breathing room.
Although the team won last time out against unranked Marquette, it had lost three straight to ranked opponents coming into this game. While coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said she didn't call this game a must-win, the coaching staff knew this was a big game against what Amonte Hiller described as "a great team" who "can play with anyone on any given day."
But after the initial 20 minutes, the first half had a clear turning point: Selena Lasota's disallowed goal with 11:32 left. With her back to the goal, the Campbell River native flung a shot behind her head harder than most players shoot when facing the goal. It found the top corner and the crowd cheered. But after the post-goal stick check, Lasota's pocket was deemed too deep and the goal was disallowed, earning her a yellow card and giving Stony Brook a player advantage. The visitors took quick advantage, scoring less than 30 seconds later to cut Northwestern's lead to only one.
The two goal swing seemed to take the air out of the Wildcats' sails. For the rest of the half, it was Stony Brook dominating time on the ball, a big change from the half up to that point. Northwestern was unlucky to take a deficit into the break 5-4.
Both teams upped the physicality in the second half, similar to last year's hard fought Stony Brook victory in New York. After a couple hard fouls early by Stony Brook, Wessels earned a free position and converted with a low shot 63 seconds into the half and tying the game at 5. More hard play ensued, as both teams refused to give an inch in the defensive battle. Crafty redshirt-junior Christina Esposito was able to break through though, coming from behind the goal to surprise Tesoriero and give the home team a one goal lead.
It wouldn't last long, however, as Stony Brook's Courtney Murphy built on her first-half hat trick, scoring her fourth goal of the afternoon after breaking the ankles of a couple Northwestern defenders. Later, she almost gave Stony Brook the lead after a fast break came out of the ensuing draw. But Lauren Murray turned on her afterburners and caught up, stripping Murphy as she was preparing to shoot.
Turnovers and an inability to clear the ball from its defensive zone haunted Stony Brook all afternoon and Northwestern's game-winning goal was the perfect storm. After forcing a Northwestern turnover, Stony Brook quickly gave it right back and Craig took advantage of a confused Seawolves defense, running past that unit on a self-start and finishing low past the keeper.
After the Stony Brook bench earned a yellow card for team misconduct, Fredericks got her easiest draw control victory of the game--a free one. The boring part of women's lacrosse came next: killing the clock. Despite some nervous moments at the end, Northwestern held on for the one goal victory.
Shelby Fredericks was getting beaten in the draw control circle for most of the first half in Northwestern's previous game against Marquette. Then, at halftime, Amonte Hiller lit a fire under Fredericks and ever since then, she has been a terror in the circle. At the half against Marquette, the Wildcats were losing the draw control battle 11-4. Since then, Fredericks and her teammates have won 27 of a possible 30 draws, an incredibly high percentage. The draw is so important in women's lacrosse because there is no shot clock, so teams that win possession in the circle usually dominate time on the ball, leading to more shots and more chances for goals. While next year the sport is instituting a 90 second shot clock, for the moment the draw remains one of the most important facets of the game. If Fredericks and the rest of the team can continue this hot streak, Northwestern will have a chance to win every game it plays.
Last year, when the team hit a rough patch during the season, Amonte Hiller began going to her bench much more, to keep the players on the field fresh and to remind the team that no one's spot was assured. Today, with the team off it its worst start in a decade, we saw Amonte Hiller do something similar. Spring Sanders, normally a starting defender, did not play at all. We saw much more offense/defense substitutions from the coaching staff, with Corinne Wessels, backing up her four goal breakout last game with two more today, and Danita Stroup came in on offense while Shannon Nesselbush and a few other players rotated in on the defensive end. Freshmen Nell Copeland and and particularly Liza Elder played major minutes down the stretch, with Elder looking more comfortable on the field and managed two nice shots on goal. It resulted in a win, so we will see if Amonte Hiller keeps this up going forward.
Today also saw probably the defense's best effort all year, conceding only a season-low six goals. That may have been partly because of fresher players, thanks to the above mentioned substitutions implemented by Amonte Hiller. It also could have been the result of a more focused unit, committed to shutting down Stony Brook's offense in this important game. Freshman keeper Mallory Weisse also had one of her better performances on the season, with a number of big saves in critical moments to keep Northwestern in the game and quell any momentum Stony Brook was building.
Up next: Northwestern battles No. 4 North Carolina at noon on March 20 in Evanston.