EVANSTON -- On a beautiful day for the home opener, the No. 11 Northwestern women's lacrosse team eventually wore down the Marquette Golden Eagles, earning 17-11 victory. The crowd buzzed with nervous energy while the Golden Eagles hung around, but eventually turnovers and sloppy play doomed the visitors.
Redshirt junior Christina Esposito, who coach Kelly Amonte Hiller called the team's "leader," and sophomore Corrine Wessels stepped up with versatile midfielder Sheila Nesselbush watching the game on crutches from the sideline. Wessels finished with 4 goals, her first four on the season, and an assist, and seemed to develop a nice chemistry with junior transfer Danita Stroup, assisting Stroup on one of her two goals and finding her a few other times right in front of the goal for good scoring chances. Esposito finished with two goals and two assists.
"Corrine [Wessels] played her heart out today," Amonte Hiller said. "She really did some great things on the field. She hustled incredibly and if we can get that from her every game, we're going to be a much better team."
In other good news for Wildcat fans, sophomore standout Selena Lasota got on the board after being held scoreless in the Wildcats' previous two games, thanks to effective face-guarding by the opposing defenses. She finished with a hat trick on the day.
The first half finished with the home team leading 9-5 and the visitors had to feel like it could have been worse. Despite dominating on draw controls, 11-4, Northwestern outshot its opponent 16-9, including 6-2 on free positions. Marquette got on the board first before Northwestern went on a 5-0 run to take control of the game. Lasota scored her first, quickly shooting after cutting to the goal and receiving a pass from Christina Esposito. Marquette followed up Lasota's goal with two of its own, making the score 5-3 and the fans at Lanny and Sharon Martin Stadium a little nervous. However, a big defensive play from senior Nancy Dunbar led to a transition opportunity for the Wildcats, and the team was able to capitalize. Senior Kaleigh Craig found Wessels who found Shelby Fredericks who faked once and scored, making it 6-3. The teams traded goals for the rest of the half before Northwestern scored a late goal to go into the half with a 9-5 lead.
What was key to Northwestern's second half was its resurgence in the draw control circle. Amonte Hiller must have lit a fire under Fredericks because she came out determined in the second half and the Wildcats absolutely dominated the Golden Eagles to the tune of 14-1 in draw controls. If Fredericks and the team can continue that success going forward, Amonte Hiller will be a very happy camper. The team has struggled with the draw during its two losses leading up to this game.
"When Shelby gets determined and she's really focused, she does a great job for us," Amonte Hiller said. "She did that for us in the second half. She was really motivated."
Marquette was able to close the gap to 12-10 with 8:42 to play in the game, but Northwestern finished the game on a 5-1 run, making the scoreline not necessarily indicative of its closeness. Craig and Wessels keyed that run. Craig capped her hat trick with a huge solo goal, ending a 2-0 Marquette run that was gaining momentum and widening Northwestern's lead to three before Wessels got fouled on a free position, setting up another from the same spot which she converted to double the Wildcats' lead in less than two minutes of gameplay.
The Wildcats next play Stony Brook at home Saturday at 12 p.m. CT.
Offense finding its way
With Sheila Nesselbush out and her team-leading 9 goals out today, fans might have worried where the scoring was going to come from for the Wildcats. They needn't worry, as Corrine Wessels stepped up in a big way, scoring for the first time all yearâscoring four times with an assist, to boot. Kaleigh Craig and Selena Lasota also added hat tricks. The Lasota goals feel especially encouraging, considering she was still face-guarded all game. The coaching staff has been looking for ways to integrate her into the offense in light of the face-guarding and they may have figured out some winning strategies, for instance setting a pick for her with the player who has the ball before handing it off and letting her fly towards the goal off ball before finding her with a well-timed pass. Junior transfer Danita Stroup also made her presence known all game, playing as well as she has all season. She was dangerous off the ball and Wessels found her multiple times right in front of goal. Stroup finished with two goals but could have had a few more.
Draw control resurgence
Northwestern got outplayed in the first half in the draw circle, 11-4, but finished the game up 18-12. Shelby Fredericks went against much taller players most of the afternoon but must have figured something out in the second half, keying the team's 14-1 dominance in that half. Despite the deficit in the first half, Northwestern dominated possession and shots, which could speak to Marquette's sloppy play but also means Northwestern was able to overcome the draw control issue and regain possession in other ways. In the team's two game losing streak, the draw was a major issue. If Fredericks can continue this high level of play going forward, Northwestern is going to be very tough to beat.
Issues at the back
While the team did finish with a plus-6 margin of victory, it should have been much higher. Marquette is most likely a .500 team at the end of the season and it is slightly troubling the Wildcats struggled this much to put them away. Even with the team's outsized dominance in draws in the second half, it was an 8-6 contest in the second half. Part of this is issues in goal. Freshman Mallory Weisse was the top-ranked incoming goalie and she has played well this season, but is still a freshman adjusting to Division 1 lacrosse play. This game revealed some of her weaknesses. The Golden Eagles were adept and finding cutters across the middle for quick shots and Weisse struggled to react in time. In addition, Weisse let one shot bounce out of her stick and roll into the goal. In a closer match, this would loom large.