On a cold, wet day by the lake, No. 13 Northwestern used a dominant first half and a steely second to pull away late from No. 5 Notre Dame Sunday afternoon.
Fresh off a dominant, 20-4 victory over Michigan Thursday evening, Northwestern was looking to build on that performance and turn the page on its early season struggles which saw the team drop below .500 for the first time in over a decade. The team was able to do that in a big way, decisively defeating the Fighting Irish 17-12 by coming out strong and playing tough lacrosse for 60 minutes. Sophomores Shelby Fredericks, Selena Lasota and junior Christina Esposito keyed the victory by combining for 13 points on the afternoon, while senior Kaleigh Craig added two goals and and two assists to boot.
"Our best players are really stepping up," Coach Kelly Amonte Hiller said. "In order to be a good team, you have to have your best players play well and step up and they have been doing that, so that is huge for us. There's a little bit of sense of desperation and it's showing on the field and it's showing in a positive manner."
The game hung in the balance with about 20 minutes left. Notre Dame was in the midst of a 5-0 run and had cut the deficit to only four, 11-7 when Catie Ingrilli was given a yellow card, handing the Fighting Irish a player advantage. Northwestern, however, was able to kill the penalty, holding Notre Dame scoreless and mitigating the Irish's momentum.
The visitors would score eventually, but Ingrilli redeemed herself by earning a free position shot and finding Esposito near the goal for a much-needed score. The goal widened Northwestern's cushion back to four, 12-8.
Northwestern started the game poorly, conceding two goals less than four minutes into the contest. However, after that, Northwestern went on an 9-1 run to end the half--keyed by Fredericks' dominance in the draw control circle. Fredericks came into the game ranked eighth in country in draw controls at 5.4 per game, helping the Northwestern outdraw its opponents in 7 of the last 8 games. Her numbers will only improve after today's impressive performance. Notre Dame did not win a draw control until five minutes before halftime.
"We wanted to come out and come out strong and obviously in the first half we did really well on draws, that was a huge factor for us in gaining momentum and getting the lead," Amonte Hiller said.
Esposito, coming off back-to-back five point games, started Northwestern's first half run, knifing her way through the teeth of the Notre Dame defense before finishing high past Samantha Giacolone, Notre Dame's keeper. Freshman Kim Harker, fresh off her first career goal against Michigan, gave Northwestern the lead for good, 3-2 with 23:10 left in the first half, by jumping and swatting the ball after it bounced high off Giacolone. She capped the game with a goal with 20 seconds remaining, earning her third straight five-point game.
The key to Northwestern's recent stretch of good play is a new mental attitude, according to Esposito, more than any physical adjustments the team has made.
"It's more in the mental aspect," Esposito said. "We know how good we are in the physical aspect and playing lacrosse and I think we've really been focusing in on the mental aspect and going out there and leaving it all on the field. That's what it has come down to towards this end part of the season. I usually have the mindset of every game to be an animal and leave it all on the field."
Fredericks was not too tired from her dominance in the draw control to add two goals during Northwestern's first half run. Her first came on a free position, weaving her way to the goal before finishing high; her second came when Esposito found a cutting Fredericks, who one-timed it home. She would finish with a hat trick in what might have been her best performance as a Wildcat.
Sophomore Selena Lasota also had an outstanding first half of play, ending it with a hat trick. She capped the half for her team by launching an absolute frozen rope of a shot over the head of Giacolone which made the score 9-3 in favor of the Wildcats. Lasota would also open the second-half for Northwestern in similar fashion, rocketing a free position attempt past Giacolone from the left hash. Lasota finished with five goals on the day, despite being face-guarded for much of the second half.
The first half might have been the finest half of lacrosse Northwestern has put together all season, thoroughly dominating the fifth-ranked team in the country. Freshman keeper Mallory Weisse was part of that. She had a great afternoon, making a number of key saves which gave her team the momentum back when Notre Dame was threatening.
Notre Dame and the dangerous Cortney Fortunato, cut the deficit to four with 11 minutes to play. In what surely altered the rest of the game, Fortunato picked up her second yellow card of the day, ending her afternoon early and taking away the visitor's most potent offensive player.
With the win Northwestern moves to .500 on the season and looks to add another quality win to its resume on Friday night, when the undefeated No. 7 USC Trojans roll into Evanston.
"It's a new game," Fredericks said. "There's no streak. That's all just white noise to us. The only thing I'm thinking about is recovering from today, enjoying this when and then tomorrow we wake up and get back to work."