The NCAA selection committee announced Northwestern (10-9) women's lacrosse will play Louisville (12-5) in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.
After ensuring a winning record at the end of the year and making the finals of the Big Ten Tournament, the selection committee had little recourse in awarding Northwestern an at-large bid after the team finished with the highest strength of schedule in the nation. Northwestern lost 10-4 at Louisville earlier this season. The game will take place at No. 6 seed Notre Dame, whom Northwestern will play if they advance past Louisville.
In the upper half of the bracket, should Northwestern make it that far, potential match-ups loom with No. 3 seed UNC or Duke, both teams the Wildcats have played this season. This is when the incredibly difficult schedule coach Kelly Amonte Hiller can pay dividends: not only has the team seen many of its potential opponents before, but by being placed in difficult situations throughout the season, each player should be better prepared to handle adversity in the single-elimination tournament, should things get hairy.
Even Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten tournament championship against undefeated Maryland, Northwestern fans could begin to see the difficult schedule pay off. The game was much closer than the teams' first match-up and Northwestern and its young players did not panic when they went down 4-1 in the early going, methodically marching back to tie things at the half.
Northwestern was defeated by Louisville early in the season, 10-4, but this team is far different from that version. Sophomore standout Selena Lasota has been properly integrated into the offense, exploding in her past 8 games for over 30 goals. Freshman net-minder Mallory Weisse has rid herself of any early-season jitters and has been a rock in the back. Draw control specialist Shelby Fredericks has become more focused in the circle, leading to many more offensive possessions for her team.
Going into Friday's game against the Cardinals, Amonte Hiller will surely have her team ready mentally and physically, believing they are going to win.
Should the team get past Louisville, a date with Notre Dame will be waiting. While the Wildcats were victorious over the Fighting Irish, 17-12, earlier this season, that game took place in Evanston while this hypothetical match-up would happen in South Bend.
After that, Northwestern could draw UNC, Duke or Loyola (Md.). Northwestern beat Duke in its season opener and played UNC tough, losing in overtime, in March.
A potential rematch of the thrilling Big Ten championship game looms in the final, should Northwestern get that far.
There was some doubt on whether the team would make the NCAA Tournament after a disappointing start to the year, but a strong finish to the season for Northwestern leaves them as potential dark horses in the tournament.
Maryland, after an undefeated season and winning the Big Ten tournament, secured the No. 1 seed. Florida and Syracuse, along with UNC, round out the top four seeds. Find the full bracket below.