Northwestern went to South Bend with bad intentions.
This was not a goodwill tour. This was not a time to make friends. This was a time to mercilessly pound an opponent into the FieldTurf for 60 minutes.
Louisville had the unfortunate honor of being that team who had to lineup across from the roaming Death Star that was Northwestern's lacrosse team on Friday evening.
The Wildcats came out and put the first three on the board. Louisville got two goals back, but Northwestern would close out the first half on a 6-0 run to put themselves up 9-2 at the break. The game was functionally over somewhere between goals six and eight. Northwestern was faster, more aggressive, and simply better than the Cardinals.
Northwestern's attack was ruthless. Kaleigh Craig scored her 50th, 51st, and 52nd goals of the season in Northwestern's dominant first half showing. Freshman Leighton Yenor notched a first half hat trick. She's now scored in 8 straight contests. After waiting until the 5th game of the season to open her account, Yenor now has 17 goals on the year, good for 6th on the team. Yenor has become a legitimate threat for a Northwestern attack that can come at you from a number of angles. Obviously, Lasota and Craig will take the headlines, but Christina Esposito has been phenomenal this year with more than 30 goals, Shelby Fredericks has rounded her game out and has become much more than a draw control specialist, and transfer Danita Stroup has been useful as a pure scorer off the bench. Add in Yenor and there are just too many bodies to account for.
Defensively, Northwestern was plenty stout as well. Mallory Weisse saved just about everything that was thrown near her, finishing with a career high 12 saves, earning a ridiculous 71% save percentage. Such a performance only heightened the difference between the teams.
Louisville's regular starting goalkeeper, Brittany Reed, was unavailable, as she has been for the previous handful of games, meaning reserve Kelly Gielner had to step in. Gielner made some saves, but it's clear that having Reed and her better than 50% save percentage would have made a big difference. Gielner saved just 3 of the 18 Northwestern shots put on frame.
Regardless, Northwestern was a dominant force, and Louisville became little more than observers to the free lacrosse clinic Kelly Amonte Hiller's side was putting on in South Bend.
Up next for Northwestern is Notre Dame on Sunday. Notre Dame is ranked higher than Northwestern (6th to 10th) and has the advantage of playing on their home turf. The Fighting Irish bring with them do-it-all attacker Cortney Fortunato, whose 58 goals and 84 points both rank 10th nationally, as well as lockdown defender Barbara Sullivan, who might well be the best defender in women's lacrosse. However, Northwestern brings with them way more experience in the NCAA Tournament (Notre Dame has only made the NCAA Semifinals once back in 2006) and the knowledge that they played their best game of the year against Notre Dame back in April when the Wildcats put 17 on the board and cruised to a 5-goal win.
If Northwestern brings the quality they brought against Louisville, it's hard to imagine Northwestern not moving on to the quarterfinals.