On a cold, wet Thursday afternoon in Louisville, KY, the Northwestern women's lacrosse team made history--just not the type of history it will be particularly proud of.
For the first time in the six matchups between the two teams, Louisville beat Northwestern in a women's lacrosse game. For the Cardinals, this game offered a chance for some revenge; the last time these two teams met, Northwestern was victorious in the second round of last year's NCAA tournament.
Louisville got exactly what it set out for, dominating Northwestern en route to a 10-4 victory.
The game started well for Northwestern when Selena Lasota won the opening draw which led to a Sheila Nesselbush goal from a free position about three minutes in. But the rest of the first half could not have gone much worse. The teams traded goals after that, with a free position goal from Louisville's Julia Wood eventually tying things up at 2. It was then that Louisville seized control, going on a 3-0 run to end the half and entered the break up 5-2.
Louisville was able to dominate possession, winning the draw control with senior Kaylin Morissette immediately after scoring, allowing for a make-it-take-it gameplay, a cycle which was difficult for the Wildcats to break. The Cardinals ended with 17 shots to Northwestern's 10.
The lone bright spot during the first half was the play of freshman goalkeeper, Mallory Weisse. If not for a number of impressive saves from her, the halftime score could have been much more lopsided. Her counterpart, Brittany Read, is also young and likewise had a tremendous game. Read's goalkeeping was agressive, and a number of times she pushed far outside of the crease to snuff out a Northwestern attack. She came into the game giving up an average of slightly more than five goals per game and, remarkably, lowered that average after this game. She also performed impressively on free position shots. Northwestern ended up with 8 to Louisville's 3, but still only managed four total goals.
Much like the first half, the second half started well for Northwestern. The team finally defended the middle of their area well, extinguishing a number of Louisville attacks, but eventually the floodgates opened. Louisville scored the first two goals of the half, the latter courtesy of Kelli Gerding, who managed to sneak to the right side of Weisse's goal before taking a pass and quickly putting it away. While that was her only goal on the day, Gerding had an impressive game, also notching four assists.
After that goal, Northwestern made one last push, winning the ensuing draw and mounting an all-out assault on Louisville's goal. Lasota started things off with a bad shot from a tough angle, but luckily Northwestern maintained possession. Nesselbush earned a couple free positions in a row, but Read held tough in goal. Esposito sent another free position wide left before Nesselbush finally got one past the Louisville goalie when she came too far out of the crease, shrinking the deficit to 7-4.
Northwestern won the next draw and things were looking up when Nesselbush earned a free position. If Northwestern was to make a comeback, it had to start then. But her shot was saved and Louisville quickly scored again, and the Cardinals put two more past Weisse in a matter of 30 seconds.
For the second game in a row, Northwestern's offense sputtered on its way to loss. Troublingly, the Wildcats had more than double Louisville's free position shots, yet managed to score not even half of Louisville's goals. The offense consisted mostly of players standing around while someone tried to go one-on-one to score. While this worked in that the team drew a number of valuable free position opportunities, those opportunities must be converted for this strategy to work. Louisville's constantly moving offense was a stark contrast. Many of its goals came via finding a free player in the middle of the Northwestern defense for a quick shot, a product of the quick ball movement and constant player interchanging. Hopefully the Wildcats were watching the Louisville offense carefully and can take away a lesson or two.
Draw control disarray
Yet again, Northwestern struggled in the draw control circle. Lasota opened the game for the Wildcats, winning the draw and starting a one-woman fast break that led to the team's first goal in what was perhaps an arranged play. After that, it was fellow sophomore Shelby Fredericks who took a beating from Louisville's Morissette, recently announced as a Tewaaraton Trophy watch player and the school's all-time leader in draw controls. While Fredericks did win one or two very important draws, for the most part it was Morissette winning the draw controls to herself and igniting the Louisville offense. It is hard for a defense to keep its energy up if after every goal, the scoring team wins the draw and gets right back on offense. Fredericks gets to go up against Northwestern's original draw specialist in assistant coach Danielle Spencer every day in practice. One hopes those lessons are taken especially to heart this week.
In her last game against Syracuse, the Orange assigned a defender to face-guard Lasota everywhere she went. Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller responded to this by having her sophomore standout act mostly as a decoy, staying in the corner on offense and hoping one less defender near the goal would open things up for her other players to create goals. It did not work so well, as Northwestern's offense sputtered and did not get the job done. Today, it was clear the coaching staff tried to get Lasota going early as an important part of the offense. However, she quickly disappeared again for stretches of the game. While it is perhaps unfair to single her out in a game where every offensive player performed poorly, Lasota is the team's star. This may be the wall some sophomores hit. Lasota is a hard worker and will surely adjust her game to handle this latest attempt by other defenses to slow her down, but Northwestern's offense will suffer if she doesn't find form.